SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Henrique Ribeiro said he was prepared to make a field goal from 55 yards or closer with the game on the line Saturday.
The maximum distance wasn't necessary, but a winning kick was.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga needed the junior from Baylor School — "the best kicker in the nation," his teammates proudly proclaim — to make a kick from 38 yards out in front of a loud Gibbs Stadium homecoming crowd of 8,713 at Wofford College. And Ribeiro delivered, nailing the deciding points in a 20-17 win over the host Terriers.
The nationally fifth-ranked Mocs improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Southern Conference with their 11th consecutive conference win. The victory was UTC's first at Wofford since 1998 and improved coach Russ Huesman's record to 2-11 in games decided by three points or less.
The Mocs will be at home to face Western Carolina on Halloween.
Ribeiro made a 57-yard field goal at Bradley Central in high school, so he felt confident about his chances if the offense could make a decent penetration in the Terriers' end of the field. The Mocs did that on their final possession on a 16-yard run by Derrick Craine on fourth-and-2 from the Wofford 47. Quarterback Jacob Huesman rushed for 10 yards on the next play to the Terriers' 21, and Ribeiro nailed the game-winner, even after a Wofford timeout in an attempt to ice the kicker.
"It was definitely special to me. I've never had a game-winner; I've never had the opportunity," Ribeiro said. "I'm glad it happened. It's something you think about, because you never know the outcome so you have to be ready for everything, and to see it happen is all I can ask for."
It was UTC's first game-winning field goal since defeating Georgia Southern on Sept. 23, 2006. Esteban Lopez made a 38-yarder to defeat the Eagles that day at Finley Stadium.
Down 9-7 at halftime Saturday, the Mocs forced a pair of turnovers and outscored the home team 10-0 in the third quarter to build an eight-point lead. Wofford (3-5, 1-3) took over at its own 39 with 9:40 to play and had a 15-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard run by quarterback Brad Butler to cut the lead to 17-15.
The quarterback then scored on the two-point try and tied the game with 2:25 to play.
The Mocs rushed for only 156 yards and were outgained 318-256 by the Terriers, who rushed for 255 yards. Craine had 90 yards rushing and a touchdown to lead the Mocs, while quarterback Huesman threw for 109 yards and ran for 58 with a score but was intercepted twice.
Wofford's Lorenzo Long netted 143 yards on 24 carries.
Leading the UTC defense, A.J. Hampton had 11 tackles and Isaiah Mack had 10 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and a fumble recovery.
Former East Ridge standout JoJo Tillery had four tackles, an interception and a pass breakup for Wofford.
"Give Wofford credit. They're really hard to defend," Coach Huesman said. "They'll lean on you, they'll pound you, and when you stop them on the inside, they can get on the perimeter. They're well-coached; they've had a lot of players out and banged up, and for them to potentially win this game is a tribute to the coaching staff.
"They played hard — they probably outplayed us — but I'm thankful we got the win."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.