Elon football coach Pete Lembo prepared his team for a topsy-turvy game against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Saturday. Good call.
"All week we talked to the kids about riding out the highs and lows and finishing strong," Lembo said.
The Phoenix rode out the 20th-ranked Mocs' storm, which included a 21-point comeback to tie the game, and got two huge fourth-quarter interceptions from its defense.
Linebacker Joshua Jones' 25-yard interception return for a touchdown proved to be the game winner as Elon prevailed 49-35 in front of an announced crowd of 11,075 at Finley Stadium.
The Mocs finished with a season-high six turnovers, including five interceptions.
"You just can't turn the ball over [six] times and beat anybody," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "I don't care who it is, you can't do it."
The loss ended UTC's five-game win streak and likely ended any shot the Mocs (5-3, 4-2) had at a share of the Southern Conference championship. It also made UTC's road to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs much more difficult.
The Mocs play Bowl Championship Series No. 1 Auburn next week and then finish with a home game against Samford and a trip to No. 9 Wofford. UTC will have to beat Samford and Wofford to have a shot at an at-large bid into the playoffs.
"We're going to have to get back to work, go through the Auburn game and come back and play every game like it's a playoff game, because right now it is," said Mocs tight end Garrett Hughes, whose 20-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter tied the game at 35 with 14:35 remaining.
Mocs quarterback B.J. Coleman had a high-and-low game with five interceptions and five touchdown passes, both career highs. He finished 33-of-63 for 386 yards, but the two fourth-quarter picks derailed UTC, which had rallied from a 35-14 halftime hole.
"At 35-35 they were fortunate enough to get two big plays for them back to back that helped them seal it, and I put that on me," Coleman said. "There's nobody else to put it on but myself."
Just like last week at Furman, when UTC rallied from an 18-point fourth-quarter hole in a short span to win, Saturday's game changed dramatically in a short period.
Late in the third, UTC trailed 35-21. After forcing a punt by Elon (3-5, 2-3), the Mocs took over at their 43-yard line and began to march down the field.
They had a first down at the Elon 23 when the quarter ended, and during the short break a fan, Jason Browning, won a Kia Soul by throwing a Nerf football 35 yards through the car's driver's-side window.
When play resumed, UTC needed two plays to get into the end zone. Brian Sutherland's 22-yard touchdown catch made it 35-28, and the Mocs got the ball back moments later on the kickoff return. Chaz Moore's big hit forced a fumble that Sloan Allison recovered at the Elon 20.
Hughes' touchdown catch tied the game, and all the momentum was on the Mocs' side.
"At that point in time I thought this was going to be our game," Huesman said.
The Mocs forced a punt on Elon's next possession, but then the wheels fell off as Jones picked off Coleman to give the Phoenix the lead. On the first play of UTC's next drive, Coleman was hit as he threw the ball and Blake Thompson intercepted it and returned the ball to the UTC 5.
Elon's A.J. Harris, who rushed for a career-high 163 yards, scored his fourth touchdown with 12:13 remaining to put the Phoenix up 49-35. The Mocs had plenty of time after that for another rally, but they couldn't mount one, not even with Elon all-conference quarterback Scott Riddle out with a shoulder injury.
Despite the six turnovers, the Mocs finished with 504 yards of offense to Elon's 490. Mocs wideout Joel Bradford had 11 catches for 152 yards and two scores, while Elon's Sean Jeffcoat had seven catches for 154 yards and two scores.
Elon moved the ball at will in the first half and amassed 331 yards of offense, but the UTC defense gave up little ground, just 159, in the second. UTC linebacker Ryan Consiglio had a game-high 16 tackles.