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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright congratulates offensive lineman after a successful extra point. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs hosted the Austin Peay State University Governors, at Finley Stadium, in the season-opener for both team on September 2, 2021

With apologies to Doug Flutie and Boston College in 1984, Jacksonville State's last-second bomb to shock Florida State last week may go down in history as the Hail Mary to end all Hail Marys.

For unlike that last-second, 47-45 BC win at Miami, JSU's 59-yard catch-and-run score that delivered a 20-17 victory over the host Seminoles was a Football Championship Subdivision program win over a traditional Football Bowl Subdivision power.

Beyond that, great as Flutie's strike to Gerald Phelan was, it only covered 48 yards and Boston College actually entered the Hurricanes' Orange Bowl that Friday after Thanksgiving ranked 10th to Miami's No. 12.

But the bigger news may be — especially since many may rightly argue that FSU is down these days — that Jax State's upset hasn't been the only one orchestrated by FCS programs against their larger FBS brothers this season. East Tennessee State dominated Vanderbilt 23-3 two weeks ago. South Dakota State bashed Colorado State 42-23.

And in perhaps the biggest shocker of all, Montana won 13-7 over then No. 20 Washington.

So, given those eye-openers, is it so preposterous for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football fans to believe their Mocs can upset unbeaten Kentucky at high noon this Saturday at UK's Kroger Field?

"You gotta show up and play," said UTC coach Rusty Wright during Tuesday's weekly media luncheon. "Everybody can be beat every Saturday. I see all the scores. Sometimes you look up (as the FBS program), you're in the middle of a dogfight and it's too late to recover from."

Kentucky has recovered quite nicely from the mess coach Mark Stoops found himself in when he left his assistant's gig at Florida State at the close of the 2012 season to build back Big Blue. After starting 12-26, Stoops finally saw his UK record climb above .500 (51-50) with Saturday's 35-28 win over Missouri.

Given that the 2-0 Wildcats will start no fewer than nine seniors on defense against the Mocs, it will surprise no one if Stoops doesn't become FSU's choice to replace the embattled Mike Norvell at the close of the current season. Especially if UK reaches its sixth straight bowl and wins its fourth straight at the end of this season.

But if you're the 1-1 Mocs, and feeling much better about your season after last weekend's 20-0 win at North Alabama, this is the kind of statement game you dream about.

"You want to show those guys that they aren't a lot better," said sixth-year senior UTC defensive back and Ooltewah High School product Rashun Freeman. "Lots of chips on people's shoulders (on UTC's team)."

Said senior tight end Chris James, who's in his seventh season of college football: "If we can hit them in the mouth first, we can keep it close."

Both Freeman and James have closely watched the FCS upsets thus far.

"It's pretty exciting," said Freeman, who'll be facing a Southeastern Conference opponent for the fourth time in his career. "It gives us a lot more confidence."

Added James, "You see (the scores) on (ESPN's) Sportscenter. It's definitely in the back of your head. I'm always rooting for FCS football teams."

Wright believes one very big reason for these early FCS headline makers is "Super Seniors" — as sixth or seventh-year players such as Freeman and James are labeled — being more prevalent on FCS rosters than in past years due to COVID-19 considerations.

When you have 72 of 76 letter winners back, as UTC does, there's a good chance your average age is greater than the FBS team you're facing. Beyond that, as Freeman noted, there are a lot of chips on shoulders within FCS rosters; guys itching to prove that FBS programs were wrong to pass on them when they were in high school or junior college.

"I do think (these upsets) have happened more this year because of the super seniors," said Wright. "It's not quite as skewed as it used to be."

True. But FBS programs still have 22 more scholarships than FCS schools. And as James pointed out, the FBS programs have deeper and more talented benches than their FCS counterparts.

"It's depth," he said. "Their second teams are just as big and fast and have just as many four- and five-star players as their first team."

Still, there are those Saturdays when a dogfight erupts and Big State U. realizes too late that it needed to play four quarters instead of one or two if it expected to win.

And if it can happen for East Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, Montana and South Dakota State, who's to say it can't happen for UTC?

"You want to show that you can play just as good as those guys," said Freeman.

Or, if only for one Saturday, play a wee bit better.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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