Jacob Huesman said after last week's loss at Mercer that he was going to do "everything in my power" to make sure his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team beat The Citadel and earn the Southern Conference's automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
He did, but he was far from alone in that quest.
The senior quarterback threw for 192 yards and ran for 118 with two scores, and the nationally eighth-ranked Mocs had 489 yards of total offense in a 31-23 victory over the No. 20 Bulldogs in front of 11,594 fans Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium.
"This is unbelievable — absolutely unbelievable," Huesman said, "but the week leading up to today was the indicator. In practice everyone was so focused and really well prepared. We knew what the game meant and we came out and executed.
"Shout-out to the offensive line: They came out and imposed their will on The Citadel's defensive line. The first half was just about the best half we've played, aside from Western Carolina, but, man, it feels good. We responded well after halftime and did what we needed to do to win."
The Mocs (8-2 overall) and Bulldogs (7-3) will share the Southern Conference championship with 6-1 records in league play, but UTC definitely will represent the SoCon in the playoffs while The Citadel must hope for an at-large bid when the FCS selection show takes place on Nov. 22 at 11 a.m.
Both teams have games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams this week: The Mocs play at Florida State while the Bulldogs will be at South Carolina.
"Chattanooga is a really good team, and there's a reason they've won this thing three years in a row now," The Citadel coach Mike Houston said. "They are very talented and very well coached. Jacob is a two-time SoCon player of the year, and he'll probably win it this year, too. He's a big, bruising runner, a very smart passer, and he's like a coach on the field. He did a good job even with us trying to disguise some stuff, and really came through for them in the clutch."
Before the game, nine UTC seniors along with juniors Drae Bowles, defensive back Ryan Bossung, fullback Nikolay Timoshchuk and offensive lineman Robert Hill were honored for senior day. The four juniors won't play next season.
"This was a big win," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "I'm proud of them. They fought, scrapped, hung in there, but give credit to Citadel. They're co-champs and deserve to be co-champs. I don't think there's a question about that, but fortunately for us, they go with the head-to-head so we get the automatic bid, but they deserve to be a playoff team.
"I thought they were an excellent team and deserve to be in the playoffs and I hope they are, but they should be congratulated after being picked seventh (in the preseason)."
Huesman added that Houston should be the league's coach of the year.
The Mocs' Derrick Craine had 82 yards rushing and a 46-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that effectively put the game away.
Linebacker Nakevion Leslie and defensive end Vantrel McMillan set career highs with 15 and 10 tackles, respectively. Keionta Davis had two sacks, giving him 10.5 and ending a three-week dry spell.
Defensive tackle Josh Freeman went down with a knee injury late in the first half of the game, and defensive ends Davis and Toyvian Brand also had to miss time during the game.
"When you see teammates going down like that, it makes us mad," Leslie said. "Stuff like that happens because the offensive line is doing something dirty under the pile. It kind of ticked us off a little bit how they were taking our guys out, so it made us want to go harder."
UTC had 161 yards of total offense in the first quarter and 293 in the first half in building a 21-0 lead. On the first play from scrimmage, the Mocs executed a double pass, with Huesman faking a handoff to backup quarterback Alejandro Bennifield before throwing a screen to him. The 6-foot-2 sophomore lefty flung a perfect pass downfield to a wide-open Xavier Borishade for the score and the quick 7-0 lead on the team's longest play of the season.
"When I saw the ball in the air, I knew how wide open I was and I was thinking, 'Please don't drop this,'" Borishade said. "I was deciding whether to jump up and catch it or just let it fall in my hands, and I about tripped. The reason those are hard to catch is because you have too much time to think when the ball is in the air. There are a lot of things going through your mind, but thankfully I didn't make it too hard."
C.J. Board and Borishade finished with 116 and 107 yards receiving, respectively, becoming the first pair of UTC receivers to go over 100 yards since Clint Woods (175) and Blue Cooper (159) against Cumberland in 2008.
The UTC defense allowed 291 yards rushing from the triple-option attack of The Citadel. The Bulldogs had 131 yards in the first half but had one drive end on a fumble that was recovered by the Mocs' Justin King in UTC territory, and another ended when defensive back Sema'je Kendall stopped Reggie Williams a yard short on fourth-and-2 from the UTC 5-yard line.
The Bulldogs cut into the UTC lead in the third quarter, rushing for 119 yards and two scores. They drove downfield on the first drive of the second half, rushing for 61 yards before quarterback Dominique Allen completed a short 4-yard pass to tight end Alex Glover for a touchdown.
The Mocs answered with a 20-yard field goal by Henrique Ribeiro, but on the Bulldogs' first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, Tyler Renew rushed for 52 yards straight up the middle for a score. That cut the UTC lead to 24-14 with 2:02 to play in the third quarter.
The Mocs forced a punt on The Citadel's next possession, and two plays after a 25-yard completion on third down from Huesman to Board, Craine found a gap and sprinted 46 yards for his career-long score.
The Citadel added a late field goal by Goins and a touchdown with no time remaining on a pass from Allen to Brandon Eakins.
"We knew this was a big game and we weren't sure we were going to make the playoffs," UTC safety Lucas Webb said. "Our motivation today was our seniors: Coach Huesman talked about how how big they were and the example they'd been for the program to get from where we were to where we are now, so it was big for us to get a win today for them."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.