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UTC defenders Toyvian Brand (44), Isaiah Mack (89) and A.J. Hampton tackle Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome during the Mocs' rout of WCU on Oct. 31. The Mocs hope to match that day's performance today against the Citadel.

When it comes to pressure-packed games this season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team has something in common with Johnny Castle from the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing."

Nobody puts baby in the corner.

On two occasions this season, the Mocs have been a trendy pick to lose games in the Southern Conference. There was the Sept. 19 game at Samford, a week after the UTC defense was torched for 400-plus yards and 34 points in a 10-point win over a Division II team.

There was also the Oct. 31 game at home against Western Carolina, when the Catamounts were supposed to beat the Mocs after winning their previous four games.

On both occasions the Mocs responded, defeating Samford 31-21 in a game that wasn't that close and romping 41-13 past the Catamounts in what has been the most impressive team effort to date.

"Some of the guys have more focus (in so-called big games)," offensive lineman Synjen Herren said. "Knowing that you have to perform or it's all gone, I think that helps a lot in being able to perform in tight situations. We know the situation we're in — we have to keep winning to keep playing — and as a fifth-year senior it's the last go-around, so you have to keep performing to see if we can make it."

This afternoon's meeting with The Citadel is arguably as important a game as the eighth-ranked Mocs have had in their history. A win over the 20th-ranked Bulldogs will assure UTC of its second consecutive playoff appearance. A loss most likely ends any realistic hope of that happening after a 17-14 loss at Mercer last week.

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"I do want a sense of urgency from our guys. I do want a bounce in their steps," UTC coach Russ Huesman said. "I do want a relaxed football team, too. We're at home, and any time you play at home it's an advantage. If we have a great crowd, it'll only help us out, but great crowds don't guarantee wins and bad crowds don't guarantee losses. Does it help? Sure, it helps the energy level, no question."

The most important thing on the line today is the Southern Conference championship. After that, Huesman said, the team will worry about anything pertaining to the playoffs.

"If we win today, we're in the playoffs," he said. "I look back at the Mercer game, and we played hard, we played with emotion and did all the things you want them to do. We just turned it over, made a couple of mistakes in the red zone or it was probably a different game and we'd be feeling good right now.

"I know our guys will respond. I know it's important; we just have to execute better on both sides of the ball."

There's a lot going on at Finley Stadium today. It's senior day, and nine seniors will be honored, and it's Military Appreciation Day, but the Mocs know there's a job to do and they're trying to get that mission completed.

The Bulldogs haven't lost since falling 33-20 on Sept. 26 to Charleston Southern, which is ranked eighth in the FCS coaches' poll and 11th in the FCS STATS poll. Their other loss was a week earlier to former SoCon power Georgia Southern, now in the FBS and bowl-eligible at 6-2.

UTC defensive end Toyvian Brand said the key today will come from the team's preparation.

"I want to go into the game comfortable, so I'm doing everything in my power: watching a lot of film, getting the cheat codes," he said. "I think that's the biggest goal, to try to control the emotions for the game. We always want to go out and dominate, but we can't get caught up in all the hype of the game. Everything is on the line, so we just want to go out and play, but it's senior night, so we also want to have fun."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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