JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — With the offense somewhat slowed Saturday, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defenders gave a nice reminder of how good they are.
They forced two turnovers and running back Derrick Craine scored three touchdowns in the third-ranked Mocs' 37-7 Southern Conference win over East Tennessee State in front of 7,411 at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
UTC (5-0, 3-0) will be home to face Mercer at 4 p.m. this Saturday at Finley Stadium.
The Mocs allowed 71 yards on 12 plays in the first quarter as ETSU (2-2, 1-2) ran some things they weren't prepared for. The Buccaneers ran 40 plays in the final three quarters. They gained 61 yards.
"It was finding our rhythm, finding our groove," UTC safety Lucas Webb said. "They had a great crowd. They were pumped up and excited for the game, and that's definitely something we're going to have to deal with, but once we found our rhythm, things were coming smoothly and we got back to how we're used to playing."
Trevor Wright made a first-quarter interception, and Nakevion Leslie forced a fumble that Montrell Pardue recovered and returned to the ETSU 1-yard line, which led to the last of Craine's touchdowns.
Dale Warren led the Mocs with eight tackles, including 1.5 for lost yardage. The team totaled six tackles for loss, and Taylor Reynolds had the lone sack.
"I thought our defense played lights-out today against a quarterback I think is really good," UTC coach Russ Huesman said. "They have an excellent running back and I was impressed by their offensive line on film, so I thought we had a really good day defensively."
Huesman said that while there were some good offensive performances individually, it wasn't a good day overall. The Mocs gained 49 yards on 19 first-quarter plays but erupted for 141 yards in the second quarter and had 397 for the game.
The Mocs rushed for 217 yards, their second consecutive 200-yard performance and fourth in five games this season. Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield had 180 yards passing.
Henrique Ribeiro kicked a career-long 52-yard field goal for the game's first points, and the Mocs scored 14 second-quarter points, with a 47-yard completion from Bennifield to James Stovall leading to Craine's first score and a 1-yard run by Richardre Bagley capping off a seven-play, 57-yard drive that gave UTC a 17-0 lead.
Kyle Nalls scored from a yard out with two minutes to play after backup quarterback Tyler Roberson had a 45-yard run on the previous play.
Craine finished with 63 yards rushing, moving into seventh all-time in UTC history — 3 yards behind Eldra Buckley (2,437). The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder passed his predecessor at the position, Keon Williams, in the process.
"It just took a couple of series to get used to what they were doing," Craine said. "We saw some new things that we didn't prepare for, but we were able to pick them up pretty well. Once we got in the groove, we were able to do what we wanted to do."
Bagley finished with 34 yards rushing. Xavier Borishade led the receivers with five catches for 37 yards, while Stovall had a team-high 63 yards on three catches.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.