The untrained eye might have gazed upon the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team's 13-3 homecoming win over Furman on Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium and described it as anything but a thing of beauty.
Just don't try selling that opinion to Mocs sophomore running back Ailym Ford, who rushed for 108 yards and scored UTC's lone touchdown against the Paladins.
"A win is always pretty," said Ford after the Mocs improved to 4-1 in Southern Conference play and 5-3 overall heading into next weekend's game at Wofford. "Keep pushing. Be resilient. That's part of the game. That's Chattanooga football."
If you admire nothing else about this team of whom so much was expected at season's dawn, admire that. These Mocs keep pushing. They are resilient. They are making a name for themselves, and it has nothing to do with lighting up a scoreboard or creating plays to headline ESPN's "SportsCenter."
Instead, as coach Rusty Wright said of the improving team in his third year leading the Mocs: "We're practicing with a passion and purpose to get better. Tuesday and Wednesday were the best practices we've had since I've been here. They're paying a price to get this done."
As Wright's favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, is proving this month, sports is often more about how you finish than how you start. As losers of three of their first five games this season, including 37-34 in overtime at Virginia Military Institute, it would have been understandable if the Mocs' elite defense had begun to point fingers at its struggling offense and started to concern itself more with those individuals' potential NFL draft status than the entire team's preseason dream of enjoying a deep postseason run in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
It's never come to that, however.
In one of those games coaches love far more than fans, the Mocs churned out a whopping 418 yards of total offense to the Paladins' 157 and rang up a time-of-possession advantage of 39:48 to 20:12 that included a preposterous 12:10 to 2:50 edge in the fourth quarter.
It's pretty difficult for the opposition to score without the ball, and UTC's offense, while hardly a pinball wizard on the scoreboard, did almost as good a number on Furman's offense as the Mocs' D.
And while the watery, windy, chilly weather probably hurt attendance at the first UTC homecoming game since 2019, that there was a homecoming game at all was a welcome sign that COVID-19, however slowly, is gradually loosening its grip on our daily lives.
"It is great to celebrate the conclusion of homecoming week with a football game again," noted UTC chancellor Steven Angle in an email Saturday evening. "You could feel the energy on campus all week and the atmosphere was spirited throughout the pregame tailgating. I wish the weather would have cooperated a little more, but we appreciate all the fans who made it out to support our student-athletes. It's another great day to be a Moc."
It was indeed great to see a crowd of 6,448 after having no home game and next to no season last year due to the pandemic.
It was especially heartwarming for UTC Athletics Hall of Famer Troy Boeck, who was joined by several former teammates as he watched his son Ty collect his 200th tackle as a Moc in the opening period.
"I always love getting to see teammates I haven't seen in a long time," he said after the game. "And for so many of our guys — Tim Jabaley, Billy Glanton, Greg Moore, Brad Patterson, Reggie Soloman — to be here to watch Ty play makes it even more special."
As October rolls into November, just having college football back is special.
"You take it for granted," said UTC athletic director Mark Wharton, "that you have this opportunity to get people together. Having homecoming back after last year is tremendously special. Our Hall of Fame banquet was great last night. We had 1,000 people in our tailgate lot today. It's been a good weekend."
The Mocs winning for a third straight conference game makes it better, of course. As the defense continues to dominate, as Ford and fellow running back Tyrell Price — who not only ran for 110 yards, but averaged 7.9 yards a carry — look more and more like the best rushing tandem in the SoCon, if not the entire FCS, the goal to reach the playoffs looks more and more attainable.
But something Troy Boeck said about the return of football in general appears to be more true and certain each passing weekend.
"I think college football has done the best job of getting people back together," he said. "It unifies us."
And that's always pretty to see, regardless of the score or style of play.
5-at-10: Friday mailbag with MLB being forced back to the A-T-L, social changes and how many people hate me