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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — This time, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was prepared — and as usual, its freshman quarterback was confident.

For the second straight game, the Mocs had an opportunity to pull out a big win. The previous weekend, they were unable to take advantage and lost 20-14 at home to The Citadel. This past Saturday, Cole Copeland directed the offense on a nine-play, 53-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion and some clutch rushing by a backup running back.

The two-minute drill led to a 38-yard field goal by Victor Ulmo that was dead on, and that led to a 23-21 victory over Samford — No. 8 in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll and No. 9 in the STATS FCS poll — for the program's first road win against a top-10 opponent in 34 seasons.

The Mocs (2-7, 2-4 Southern Conference), who will play at No. 10/8 Wofford (7-1, 5-1) this Saturday, were far from perfect against Samford. They turned the ball over four times, including once deep on their side of the field. They had a holding penalty that negated a 44-yard run by Darrell Bridges. A poor fourth-quarter offensive performance — UTC's first 14 plays of the period netted negative-5 yards — caused a 13-point lead to slip away, and the Mocs were staring at their fifth consecutive loss after turning the ball over on downs with 5:31 to play.

But then UTC linebacker Tae Davis forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive back Kareem Orr, and with the additional opportunity, the Mocs made the most of it.

The weekend before, with UTC in need of a touchdown, its final possession ended 11 yards short of the end zone after four failed attempts to score. Against Samford, junior Alex Trotter had 35 of his 58 rushing yards on the key drive, including a 17-yard run into Bulldogs territory. Copeland completed all three of his passes on the series, including a play in which he evaded a rush, kept his eyes downfield and delivered a 16-yard completion to Alphonso Stewart that put the Mocs in field-goal range.

"You can't really make up that scenario," Copeland said. "Failing in that position last week kind of helped springboard me into this game. It wasn't pretty, but we were resilient and we were not going to be denied tonight. In times past, we would have got down and let it go downhill, but tonight we bowed our back.

"I couldn't be more proud of the guys."

Saturday helped bring some tangible proof to all of the talk by UTC staff and players of improvement during Tom Arth's first season as head coach.

Minus three sacks totaling 19 yards in losses and a 3-yard loss by Copeland on a play designed to better position Ulmo's final kick, the Mocs gained 157 yards on 41 carries, with Bridges and Trotter combining for 147 on 36. And the defense has started to earn a label of letting people move but keeping them out of the end zone — the Citadel and Samford scored a combined 41 points despite gaining 444 and 367 yards.

"I'm just proud of our guys," said Davis, who had a career-high 14 tackles against Samford. "All year, even though our record in some games haven't showed it, we've been fighting. We've been working hard, and to get a win against a very good Samford team, it's icing on the cake. I'm happy for Coach Arth and the staff for getting a top-10 win. They're going to build off that into next season.

"I'm ending my career 4-0 against Samford. That's one thing I'm pretty proud of, I'd say."

It also helped that the Mocs — who had forced only six turnovers this season entering Saturday — intercepted three passes and recovered four fumbles by Samford, which entered the game with seven turnovers this season.

Against The Citadel, the Mocs held an early lead but were unable to hold on.

Against Birmingham's Bulldogs, they lost it but were able to fight back.

"We wanted to keep the pressure on them," Arth said. "Coming out of halftime, we knew they were going to make a run. We knew they were going to make some plays. We have to be ready for it and we have to withstand it. We handled it and handled it well. We came up with some really big turnovers, and it was a huge part of the win."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.

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