Mocs’ redzone offense struggles in 13-9 loss to Mercer


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC Athletics) — The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team let two long kickoff returns negate an outstanding effort from the defense in a 13-9 loss on Senior Day to Mercer. UTC falls to 6-4 overall and finishes league play with a 4-4 mark. The Bears improve to 5-5 overall and 4-3 in SoCon action.

Sophomore Victor Ulmo put the Mocs up 9-7 with his third field goal of the second half with 2:13 left to play. UTC kicked off and only a shoe-string tackle by C.J. Fritz kept the Bears’ Stephen Houzah from returning the following kickoff 92 for the score.

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UTC made two valiant efforts to keep Mercer out of the endzone, but Tyray Devezin finally broke through on third down from the one. With just 1:50 left on the clock and no timeout, Chattanooga could not respond.

The Mocs held Mercer to just 149 yards of total offense. However, the Bear racked up 180 yards on kickoff returns. Houzah also had a 73-yarder in the fourth quarter that set up Mercer’s first score.

Offensively, UTC got down to the Mercer two-yard-line three times in the first half and did not score. The first was on a 63-yard run by Alex Trotter in the first quarter. He was stripped of the ball on the one-yard line. Mercer then made a goal-line stand in the second quarter, stopping the Mocs on third and fourth down from the one.

The final time came after a Derek Mahaffey interception. It looked like a 61-yard return for a score for the senior defensive lineman, but he was flagged for high-stepping on the two. Add another 15-yard penalty for a sideline infraction on the Mocs and Chattanooga’s 7-0 lead was taken away for first-and-10 at the Mercer 32.

UTC finally got on the board in the third quarter. Senior Cody Swabek blocked a punt that sophomore D.J. Jackson recovered on the Mercer 20. Ulmo’s 38-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright, but fell through for a 3-0 lead with 11:37 left in the third.

Ulmo put the Mocs up 6-0 with a 28-yarder early in the fourth quarter. He improved to 12-16 (75.0%) on the year with a career-high three makes today.

In the end, UTC’s inability to get into the endzone caught up to them. Chattanooga posted 120 rushing yards on 38 attempts, led by Trotter’s career-high 96 yards on 11 carries. Junior QB Nick Tiano was 21-33 for 189 yards passing. Senior Wil Young made seven catches for 72 yards, while sophomore Bryce Nunnelly had six receptions for 91 yards.

Senior Isaiah Mack and junior Marshall Cooper led the defensive unit with eight tackles each. Mack posted a sack for the fourth game in a row, while Mahaffey added six tackles and two breakups to go with his interception.

Chattanooga: 6-4 | 4-4 SoCon
Mercer: 5-5 | 4-3 SoCon

Chattanooga leads 18-9-1 in the series…2-3 since Mercer joined the SoCon in 2014…16-3-1 at home.

Check out all we heard at the quotes link at the top of this story.

Overall thoughts on the game:
“Obviously that was a tough day and a bad finish for us. I thought, defensively, we played lights out and did a lot of really great things. Unfortunately, we made some mistakes early in the game. A fumble going in on the opening possession and the interception return. Some really costly errors. We struggled offensively all day long, but at the end of the day we had the lead with a few minutes left. We were up by two and I made a decision to whether squib it, pop it up or kick it deep. I chose to kick it deep and that was my call. I trust our kick off team to go down there and make the tackle, but unfortunately we didn’t. That’s on me. That was the only thing that could not happen. That’s part of the game we all have to learn from it.”
– Coach Tom Arth

Has it sunk in that you have one game left:
“It has. I’m sad it had to end this way. I wouldn’t want to go out with no other guys on my team. Especially number five (Derek Mahaffey), he’s my roll dawg.”

Three notes from today’s contest. Check out the full complement of facts and figures in the link above.
– UTC ‘s four losses have come by an average of 6.5 points.
– Mocs lead the SoCon in scoring defense at 18.2 ppg allowed.
– Chattanooga has held three of its last four and four of last six opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense.

Check out the final stats at the link above. Here are three stats of note…
– Senior Alex Trotter ran for a career-high 96 yards … previous best was 58 at Samford last year.
– First game this season Nick Tiano did not throw a touchdown pass.
– Mack recorded his 21st career sack … fourth all-time at UTC.

The Mocs conclude the regular season next Saturday at South Carolina. The 7:30 p.m., kickoff broadcasts on the SEC Network’s Alternate channel and can be found on the WatchESPN app. The Bears complete their year at home hosting Furman at 3 p.m.