The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offense needed a little time to gain its footing Saturday against East Tennessee State.
Luckily, the defense gave the offense all game.
The Mocs held the Buccaneers to 116 yards of total offense, and the UTC offense manufactured 10 points in the third quarter to produce a 10-3 win in front of 8,434 at Finley Stadium in the season finale. It was UTC's first win at home in 2017.
Tom Arth's first season as the Mocs' coach ended with a record of 3-8, 2-2 in the final four games. The Mocs tied for sixth in the Southern Conference with a 3-5 mark, along with The Citadel. ETSU finished 4-7 overall, 2-6 in the league.
ETSU's total was the fewest yards allowed by a UTC team against a SoCon opponent at Finley. Bucs quarterback Austin Herink from Cleveland High School was harassed all game, completing only 13 of 37 passes for 92 yards, while the rushing attack — ranked worst in the SoCon — was held to 24 yards on 20 carries.
The Bucs had five three-and-outs and averaged 2.0 yards per play.
UTC's Dale Warren totaled five tackles and a sack. Kareem Orr and Isaiah Mack matched Warren's tackle total, with Orr getting 1.5 tackles for loss. The Mocs were credited with 12 quarterback hurries, continually pounding Herink and flushing him out of the pocket.
"It was very, very important to go out the right way, to get a win at home," Arth said. "We've been playing better. It hasn't always translated to a win for us, but it was really important that it did this week.
"Give our team credit: offense, defense, special teams. Our defense kept us in that game the whole way through — they kept us in it most of the season, but our special teams came through and that's what we talked about this spring, that the time devoted to special teams was going to win us a football game, and it did today. We played so well on that unit, and a lot of special teams comes down to the character you have, the will you have, and our guys responded today."
With winds gusting around 20-25 mph, the Mocs played the field-position game. Colin Brewer averaged 40.7 yards on nine punts with only one touchback, while the return units allowed only 37 yards on three combined kickoff and punt returns. Marshall Cooper blocked a punt on the Bucs' first possession of the second half that led to the Mocs' touchdown.
The Bucs had gone into the locker room up 3-0 after a 51-yard field goal by J.J. Jerman in the first quarter. The teams had combined for 119 yards in the first half — 102 by UTC, whose best drive ended in a missed field-goal attempt. ETSU had 17 yards of total offense on 22 plays at the break.
Cooper's blocked punt gave the Mocs the ball at the ETSU 27-yard line, and they cashed in four plays later. Cole Copeland had pass completions of 15 yards to Bryce Nunnelly and the final 12 to Joseph Parker. Parker made an athletic one-handed catch going toward the sideline and was able to reach the ball over the pylon for the score.
"I've never seen anything like it," Copeland, who threw for 154 yards, said of Parker's catch. "The ball just stopped moving on his hand. It was something to see, especially from my angle because I'm fired up he caught it; it made me look a little bit better."
The Mocs then added a field goal on their best drive of the game, capping a 13-play, 63-yard march with a 34-yard shot by Ulmo to give them a touchdown edge with 3:43 to play.
That was more than enough Saturday, as the Bucs crossed into UTC territory only once in the final quarter.
The Mocs weren't much better offensively, but they did finish with 238 yards and 14 first downs. Darrell Bridges ran for 74 yards on 20 carries in his final game. Fellow senior Richardre Bagley led the team in receptions with four, while Wil Young's 28 yards paced that receiving category.
Copeland completed passes to 10 receivers, including himself for a 1-yard loss on a ball batted at the line of scrimmage.
It was the last game for 20 UTC seniors — a class that leaves with 31 wins, three conference championships and three Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances.
"We really just wanted to come out and do it for the seniors," Orr said. "So when we came out here we did it with a purpose: We put it all on the line. Every last bit of blood, we put it all on the line for the seniors."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.