Mocs Drop 41-36 Second Round Contest at Top-Ranked Sam Houston State

(GOMOCS.COM) – For the third year in a row, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team went up against the No. 1 ranked team in the country in the FCS Playoffs, and for the third time in a row, it came down to the final play.

Unfortunately for the Mocs, it was a similar outcome when junior quarterback Alejandro Bennifield’s fourth down pass sailed over senior C.J. Board’s head in the back of the endzone, resulting in a 41-36 loss at Sam Houston State.

“A great football game,” said UTC head coach Russ Huesman. “It came down to the end and they made a few more plays than we did.

“I thought both teams played really hard and it was a greatly played football game. It hurts, and I know our guys are hurting right now.”

The Mocs got after the top-ranked Bearkats, sacking quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe a season-high seven times.  SHSU came into the game with the No. 1 total (584.0) and scoring (54.2) offense in the nation.  UTC held them well below their averages in both categories.

Chattanooga actually outgained SHSU 531 to 421.  It tied UTC’s season high and was a season-low for the Bearkats.

The Mocs fell behind early, giving up three touchdowns in less than 16 minutes of play.  SHSU scored quickly, with two of the three drives taking less than a minute.  In fact, the Bearkats had four drives there were less than a minute in the game.

Chattanooga finally got on the board midway through the second quarter after a SHSU miscue.  The rain that was forecasted all week finally showed up and UTC quickly forced its first three-and-out.  The Bearkats snap on their punt hit one of their backs and was recovered on their own 24.

Chattanooga went the 24 yards in six plays, capped by a one-yard plunge from senior running back Derrick Craine.  That closed the gap to 21-7 with 6:18 left in the half.

On the Bearkats next possession, senior linebacker Nakevion Leslie posted another score with a 14-yard pick-six.  The 21-14 score held until the break as the Mocs trailed at halftime for the fourth time this season.

UTC opened the second half with an impressive 75-yard march to tie the score.  Bennifield accounted for all 75 yards, 30 passing and 45 with his legs.  Chattanooga made it 21 unanswered when Bennifield hit senior receiver Xavier Borishade on an 18-yard screen.  It was the first time all year at team was even with the Bearkats in the second half.

Sam Houston State jumped right back in front after the Mocs were unsuccessful on a fake punt on their side of the field.  The Bearkats scored two plays later when Briscoe hit Davion Davis for a 28-21 lead with 6:39 left in the quarter.

Senior Henrique Riberio responded with the first of three field goals to make it 28-24 with 2:57 left in the third.  Yedidiah Lewis put SHSU up 35-24 when he caught a 23-yard pass from Briscoe just before then end of the third.

UTC got the next two scores, a 15-yard run by Derrick Craine and a 37-yard field goal from Riberio for a 35-30 deficit with 9:42 left to play.  Briscoe threw another touchdown to Nathan Stewart for a 41-33 lead with 9:02 left.  The Bearkats missed the point after to keep it a one score game.  Ribeiro’s 29-yard field goal with 4:36 left set up the final sequence.

Senior Keionta Davis strip-acked Briscoe, but the Mocs could not get on the fumble.  The play actually knocked Briscoe out for a few plays and junior Taylor Reynolds sacked backup Caleb Griffin later in the drive. The Mocs defense held and got the ball on its 38 with 2:39 left after the punt.

Bennifield hit five of six passes to get the Mocs to the SHSU 25.  However, he could not connect on the next four tries as Sam Houston State took over on downs and ran out the clock.

Bennifield finished 26-43 for 295 yards and one touchdown.  It was career-highs for completions, attempts and yards for the southpaw.  He also posted a career-high 85 rushing yards on 15 carries.

“I thought Alejandro (Bennifield) played excellent,” state Huesman. “I thought he was playing like a big-time player out there. Made plays with his feet and threw the ball well.”

Craine capped off an outstanding career with 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.  He is just the third in school history with two 1,000-yard seasons.

Defensively, Davis, Reynolds and sophomore Isaiah Mack all posted two sacks, while senior Vantrel McMillan added the seventh.  It was the most sacks in a game for Chattanooga since posting seven against Western Carolina in 2007.  Leslie had a team-high seven tackles.

UTC finishes its season with a 9-4 record.  The 2016 seniors make up the winningest class in school history with a 36-16 (.673) record over the last four years.

“I’m awful proud of our football team and our senior class,” said Huesman. “That group has done an unbelievable job for us and they have meant so much to our program. Just really proud of them.”

Categories: Local News, Sports, Sports – Local Sports News

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