FLORENCE, Ala. — University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior defensive back Brandon Dowdell took no credit away from Austin Peay, which beat the Mocs by 10 points in their Sept. 2 season opener at Finley Stadium.
He did believe some of the Governors' success was predicated off the Mocs' miscues, though, and it was a point of emphasis this past week in practice as UTC prepared to hit the road and take on North Alabama with hopes of bouncing back in performance and results.
"It's all about the little things," Dowdell said. "We didn't line up right, or we didn't fit certain gaps. We didn't wrap, and that's all it comes down to: Chattanooga beating Chattanooga."
Saturday night, even though the Mocs made a number of notable mistakes, including turnovers and bad penalties, the defense led the way throughout a 20-0 victory at North Alabama.
A week after topping 400 yards of total offense in a 49-28 opening loss to Southeastern Louisiana, the Lions were held to just 90 by the Mocs. UTC sacked Jaylen Gipson — who threw for 350 yards last weekend — six times and held him to just 52 passing yards while also intercepting him twice.
Devonnsha Maxwell had 3.5 sacks, tying former UTC standouts Davis Tull and Tyler Unzicker for most in a single game and matching Isaiah Mack for fourth on the career list with 21. Jerrell Lawson had his second career interception for a touchdown, and Dowdell had his third interception of the season.
The Mocs won by shutout for the first time since beating Presbyterian 34-0 on Sept. 10, 2016.
The offense was far from fluid. Junior quarterback Cole Copeland, making his first start since the 2017 season, threw for just 98 yards and was intercepted twice, but Ailym Ford had 111 yards on the ground and a score, and Tyrell Price added 68 rushing yards. UTC totaled 194 yards on the ground and did its part of playing complementary football to the defense's dominance.
The Mocs return to competition with another road game, visiting Southeastern Conference member Kentucky for a noon kickoff next Saturday. UTC is off the following week before hosting Western Carolina on Oct. 2 to begin its eight-game Southern Conference schedule.
It wasn't anyone in particular — it was the defense as a whole. It was the sacks, the interceptions, it was keeping points off the board for North Alabama and being the first team to shut out the Lions since the 2010 season — a span of 113 games.
Both the Mocs and the Lions had two turnovers. The difference — and quite possibly the difference in the game — was the Mocs turned their two takeaways into 14 points.
Down just 3-0, the Lions picked off a Copeland pass in UTC territory and. as the second quarter began, had the ball at the Mocs' 8-yard line. Gipson threw a pass that was deflected, then picked off by Dowdell in the end zone and returned to the 22-yard line. Nine plays later, Ford scored from a yard out to build a 10-0 lead.
After the disappointment of the opener in a matchup of two teams in the Football Championship Subdivision national rankings, the Mocs needed a bit of a feel-good game. Copeland was far from perfect, but he was calm and collected throughout. He had help from the rushing attack and obviously the defense, and now the Mocs can go collect $500,000 from Kentucky next weekend, then get a little rest before jumping into SoCon play.