JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Not being used to noon starts, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team came out a little bit slow, a little bit sluggish in its game against East Tennessee State on Saturday.
Justin King finally got everybody awake.
The 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior defensive tackle orchestrated a quick team huddle after the first quarter of the third-ranked Mocs' 37-7 win. The consensus afterward was that the impromptu meeting was right on time and sent the right message to the players.
"I think it woke everybody up," quarterback Alejandro Bennifield said. "We came out, the guys were kind of sluggish, lackadaisical at first. He got us all together, and we realized we had to pick things up or we could lose this game. We had to get it together right now, put some points on the board and play great defense."
The UTC offense had 49 yards on 19 plays after a quarter, including 8 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, the host Buccaneers had an efficient 71 yards on 12 plays after 15 minutes.
From that point forward, the Mocs outgained the Bucs 348-61 and outscored the home team 34-7, with the ETSU score coming off an 87-yard fumble recovery in the fourth quarter with backups in.
Maybe the early kickoff led to the slow start. Derrick Craine, who had three rushing touchdowns, said he hadn't played a 12 o'clock game "since I was 8."
"Once King hyped us up, we were able to get some things going offensively and defensively," Craine said.
UTC and ETSU long have considered each other rivals. That hasn't been the case recently in football, where the schools hadn't met in 13 seasons after ETSU dropped its program following the 2003 season.
Due to fan support, the rivalry has all the makings of being restored, but chances are it will take the Bucs a year or two — they have only two seniors on the 2016 team — to start to get back to a competitive level.
Still an overflow crowd of 7,411 fans at Kermit Tipton Stadium — which seats 6,400 — says the fans want to see the rivalry return.
"Some people may look at the score today and say it wasn't a close game, but it was a little closer than people thought," UTC safety Lucas Webb said. "They're going to keep building on this for years to come, and next year whenever they come to play they're going to be fired up and they're going to be better, I believe it."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.