There was no Chattanooga celebration Saturday at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Ala. Instead it was Samford’s students and fans storming the football field after Nick Pollard’s 31-yard field-goal attempt in overtime hit the left upright and fell to the endzone turf, no good.
The final score: Samford 17, UTC 14.
The 18th-ranked Mocs were hoping to close out Southern Conference play with their seventh straight win, securing the league title outright and the SoCon’s automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Instead, UTC (7-4, 6-2) has to share the championship, the program’s first since 1984, and hope either the tiebreakers after next week’s games fall its way or the playoff selection committee feels the Mocs are worthy of an at-large bid. They close out their regular season next Saturday at Alabama.
“I told the guys in there,” Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said after addressing the team in the locker room, “I said, ‘Fellows, let me tell you something. I know you’re disappointed right now – we all are – but you’re conference champions. You won a conference championship. You won one and we’re probably going to the playoffs.’ I said everybody would have signed up for that before the season started, no question.” Still, the pain and disappointment of Saturday’s loss was etched on theplayers’ faces. None more than Pollard and quarterback Jacob Huesman, whose across-the-body overtime throw on third down to fullback Taharin Tyson in the end zone was just a few inches off the mark.
“I missed him and it’s on me,” said Jacob Huesman, who was 28-of-34 passing for 265 yards despite playing with a bad left knee that limited his mobility.
Samford (7-4, 6-2) led 14-0 going into the fourth quarter. Linebacker Wes Dothard gave Chattanooga life with a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it 14-7 with 13:07 remaining. The Mocs’ defense, which held the potent Bulldogs offense to 311 total yards, got another stop right after that.
Playing with more energy, the offense drove 84 yards for the tying touchdown, a 3-yard Tim Tebowlike jump pass from Jacob Huesman to tight end Faysal Shafaat with 4:59 remaining.