On paper, Elon University’s football loss to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga did not look like one team dominated the other. The 20-9 margin in favor of the visiting Mocs reflected a close game. So did the total offense — 322 yards for Chattanooga, 293 yards for Elon.
The one number that served as the best reflection of the game might have been time of possession — 33:28 for the Mocs, 26:32 for the Phoenix. Chattanooga used five drives of eight or more plays, four of which took longer than four minutes of game time.
“Give them a lot of credit,” Elon head coach Jason Swepson said. “ (They are a) well coached football team, did a great job running the football.”
Elon jumped out to an early 3-0 lead courtesy of a 16-play, 80-yard drive that used 7:12 of game time. On 3rd and 1 from the Chattanooga 21-yard line, junior quarterback Mike Quinn found senior wide receiver Rasaun Rorie for a 16-yard pickup to give Elon a first and goal situation. Similar to the ending of Elon’s game a week ago against Wofford College, the Phoenix were presented with four chances to score inside of the five-yard line, yet could not complete the task. Freshman kicker John Gallagher hit a 19-yard field goal with 2:20 to play in the game’s opening quarter, the first of three kicks he made on the day.
For Gallagher, who started the season 1 of 8 on field goal tries, the afternoon marked a revival of his season.
“The confidence is certainly back,” Gallagher said. “At a certain point, after my last miss at Furman (University), I turned my season around. The season’s only half over, so it’s not completely over. Coach Swepson never gave up on me."
“Three field goals — three-for-three,” Swepson said. “Just happy for him for getting back on track.”
Soon after Elon got on the board, Chattanooga followed with a four-yard touchdown run by junior running back Keon Williams. The drive was kept alive by a fake punt on 4th and 1 from their own 34-yard line. Junior running back Taharin Tyson took the direct snap and ran 24 yards for the first down.
“That fake punt (was a) great call by them,” Swepson said. “Gutsy call, they executed it and that might have been the difference in the game.”
The game remained 7-3 until another Gallagher field goal, this one from 30 yards out with 9:50 remaining in the half to trim the margin to 7-6. The kick was the result of a fumble recovery by junior defensive back Akeem Langham on the Mocs’ 13-yard line. Though Elon would score on the drive, another red zone trip without a touchdown left the team frustrated.
“I think that was the story of the game,” Swepson said. “Being in the tight red zone and not coming away with touchdowns.”
“We’ve got to condition more and be able to finish off the drive with a touchdown,” Quinn said. “It’s good to score points, but we’ve got to get six when we get to the red zone.”
Chattanooga scored again before halftime, a two-yard run by Williams with 3:59 to go in the second quarter. Elon got the ball to begin the third quarter, but punted when faced with fourth down at the Mocs’ 36-yard line.
“It was 4th and 1, we were playing the percentages that (freshman punter David) Petroni would get it inside the 10,” Swepson said. “I just didn’t want to give that offense a short field.”
Quinn, however, was upset with the play call.
“It’s tough because we did have some time left, but not a whole lot of time. The offense is always a little pissed off (that the coaches chose to punt),” he said. “But we definitely want to be able to go for it on 4th and inches, 4th and 1 because we think we have the ability to whether we throw or run the ball.”
The Mocs and Phoenix combined for eight possessions total, four each, in the entire second half. Chattanooga’s first offensive series of the stanza was an 11-play, 65-yard drive culminating in a 32-yard field goal by junior kicker Nick Pollard to extend the lead to 17-6.
Chattanooga’s ball control was largely due to dual-threat sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman. Huesman was 14 of 17 through the air for 99 yards and rushed 18 times for 71 yards on the ground.
“Jacob Huesman is a great quarterback,” Elon sophomore linebacker Alexander Dawson said. “We watched him all week in film, we thought we had a great scheme with the 3-4 going into today, I thought we contained him pretty well. We just executed our game plan.”
Elon’s defense, which had coughed up 67 points in the second half the past three weeks, held Chattanooga to only six points after halftime.
“We switched things up on defense, gave them a couple different looks, and I felt like it paid off in the second half,” Dawson said.
Elon would answer Pollard’s kick with Gallagher’s third field goal of the day, this one from 32 yards out.
The Mocs’ ensuing possession was a dominating 16-play drive that took over eight minutes of game clock to complete, yet ended in another Pollard field goal from 19 yards away.
The game’s final minutes ticked away with Elon unable to score again, and the Mocs walking away with a victory that left Swepson reflecting on what could have been.
“One touchdown out of those three field goals, it would have been a different story,” he said. “We’re just one or two plays from being 6-2, not 2-6. I think we have a foundation.”
Elon, as Swepson mentioned, dropped to 2-6 with the loss, 1-3 in the Southern Conference. Chattanooga improves to 5-2, 3-1 in the SoCon.
The Phoenix will visit Western Carolina University next Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. game in Cullowhee, N.C. The Catamounts have lost 26 consecutive SoCon games heading into the matchup with Elon.