published Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Win streak, title hopes are on the line for Chattanooga Mocs

The UTC football team enters the field, led by fullback Taharin Tyson (2), before the Mocs' game against the Western Carolina Catamounts. on Oct. 5.
The UTC football team enters the field, led by fullback Taharin Tyson (2), before the Mocs' game against the Western Carolina Catamounts. on Oct. 5.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

IF YOU GO

What: 7-2 Mocs vs. 5-3 Wofford

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Finley Stadium

NOT EXACTLY FILLING FINLEY

UTC hopes for a big crowd at Finley Stadium for today's game against Wofford. Big crowds have been the exception, not the norm, since the off-campus facility opened in 1997. Here are the 10 largest crowds at the 20,688-seat stadium:

1. 22,642 -- Tennessee State (0ct. 18, 1997)

2. 17,414 -- Georgia Southern (Oct. 16, 2010)

3. 15,235 -- Appalachian State (Sept. 4, 2010)

4. 15,072 -- Georgia Southern (Sept. 23, 2000)

5. 14,002 -- Glenville State (Sept. 3, 2009)

6. 13,726 -- Appalachian State (Sept. 22, 2012)

7. 13,186 -- Samford (Aug, 31, 2000)

8. 12,197 -- Furman (Oct. 12, 2013)

9. 12,185 -- Jacksonville State (Sept. 10, 2011)

10. 11,866 -- Western Carolina (Oct. 15, 2011)

Source: UTC

The message all week from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, its players and fans, ever since the football team's 35-28 win at Appalachian State last Saturday, has been to fill Finley Stadium.

In a UTC-made video posted on Facebook, senior co-captain and linebacker Gunner Miller, of East Ridge, looks at the camera and says: "I don't know if you've noticed or not, but we're pretty good."

The No. 23 Mocs are 7-2 for the first time since 1980 and enter today's 2 p.m. game against No. 15 Wofford in first place in the Southern Conference standings, with a 5-1 record in league play. Wofford (5-3, 4-1 SoCon) is tied for second with Samford (6-2, 4-1), a half-game behind the Mocs.

Today is the home finale for UTC, which has won five straight SoCon games for the first time since joining the league in 1977.

"Honestly, this is just the next game," junior All-American defensive end Davis Tull said. "That's what coach [Russ] Huesman's been preaching from the beginning, don't make it bigger than it is. We know what's at stake, obviously, but it's still the next game."

If UTC wins and Samford loses, the Mocs will clinch a share of their first SoCon title since 1984, the year of the program's only playoff appearance.

In the past five seasons, since Huesman took over as coach, the Mocs have played in numerous games that were dubbed as "big," and that had SoCon or postseason consequences. The Mocs lost most of those games.

But after a rocky start to the season that left UTC 2-2, the Mocs have not lost since September, despite numerous injuries to key players. And never has Finley Stadium hosted a UTC game this big, when it's a late-season matchup of ranked title contenders, both of whom, along with Samford, can claim the championship if they win their remaining games.

UTC put itself in this position with fourth-quarter comebacks the past two weeks, against The Citadel and App State.

"When I go to sleep, it's all I think about, that [SoCon championship] ring," said senior cornerback and co-captain Chaz Moore. "Ever since we beat App I saw that it was very possible to get that ring, and I fall asleep thinking about that ring, and I dream about putting it on my finger."

Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein, who has been attending UTC games since well before the off-campus stadium hosted its first game in 1997, said today's game is different from those other "big" games because the hype surrounding it is based on performance, not potential, like when a good crowd shows up for the home opener.

"Talking just as a fan, I am more excited than I have been at any time in the Russ Huesman years here, over a specific game," he said. "I'm hoping that I don't get interrupted by too many problems or concerns during the game because I want to watch the game, too."

The largest crowd ever at Finley showed up for the 2007 Football Championship Subdivision national title game, when App State dismantled Delaware to win its third championship in a row. The attendance that night was 23,168 and would have been larger had there been more space available.

The Mocs aren't quite there yet. UTC has averaged 9,489 a game for its first five home games.

As of noon Friday, according to UTC, about 6,000 tickets had been distributed.

Huesman said he's stopped worrying about the crowds.

"I spent the first three years fretting the crowd and fretting over this and what can we do here," he said. "I know I've got to do my part, but now, I just want to coach ball and win a football game.

"If there's 20 people out there, we've got to coach and win. If there's 20,000 people, we've got to still coach and win."

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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