There were no off-the-charts performances on the field at Finley Stadium on Saturday night. There likely won't be any Southern Conference player of the week honors coming the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's way today.
The Mocs' 35-27 win over No. 18 Georgia Southern was, coach Russ Huesman said, "a great team win," the biggest in his two seasons at the helm of his alma mater.
"I think a lot of people stepped up, made plays," he said. "I don't think it was one or two people; I think it was a bunch of people that contributed all the way across the board."
The Mocs (4-2, 3-1 SoCon) had been a first-half team all season heading into Saturday's game. UTC had outscored its opponents 94-30 and led at the break in its first five games.
It was the second half, especially the fourth quarter, that was the Mocs' undoing in their losses to Appalachian State and Jacksonville State. Those teams made the big plays late to earn their wins.
Against the Eagles (3-3, 1-2), it was UTC's turn - in front of an announced crowd of 17,414, the Mocs' second largest ever at Finley Stadium.
The Mocs were down 20-14 at the half, their first halftime deficit this season, and Georgia Southern had more than double UTC's yardage (272 to 125).
"We knew what we had to do, coming out in the second half," wideout Brian Sutherland said. "Coach Huesman spoke to us and let us know that this is our game, this is our homecoming and in order to set up big stages like this, and keep them coming, we've just got to keep winning."
The Mocs opened the third quarter with a season-high 17-play drive that lasted nine minutes and nine seconds. Aided by a roughing-the-holder penalty on a 40-yard field goal attempt, UTC scored to go in front 21-20.
On the third play of GSU's ensuing drive, defensive end Chris Donald forced a fumble that safety Chris Lewis-Harris recovered at the Eagles' 25-yard line. Four plays later J.J. Jackson ran the ball in from the 3 to make it 28-20.
The Eagles didn't go away, but the Mocs continued to make the plays down the stretch. There was Donald's sack on third-and-3 early in the fourth quarter, B.J. Coleman's 43-yard touchdown pass to Sutherland and safety Jordan Tippit's win-sealing interception with 1:07 to play.
"My first year here, we definitely didn't know how to win," Tippit, a junior, said of 2008, when UTC went 1-11. "Everybody knows we didn't know how to win. Last year, we kind of got it a little bit, came from behind in a couple of games and built some momentum.
"This year, this is the year we finally learned how to win and put teams away and make plays when we need to make them."
Added Sutherland: "There's a big difference between getting close and actually getting it done. We got close the first two games, against two ranked opponents, and [Saturday] we just came out and made a statement."
It was a statement that said something about where this season is headed, Huesman said. After the 2008 debacle, the Mocs went 6-5 last season for their first winning season since 2005.
"If we don't win this game, we're 3-3 and everybody's saying 'they played hard, they lost to a good team, they've lost to three ranked teams.' Whoop-de-do on that," Huesman said. "Eventually you've to say, 'I'm going to win one; we're going to get to 4-2; we're going to beat a good football team and then let's see how it progresses from there.'"
The Mocs have won four straight games, and three straight SoCon games, for the first time since 1997. They'll go for a fifth straight win, which hasn't been done since 1980, this week at Furman. The Paladins (4-2, 2-1) won 27-10 at Samford on Saturday.