UTC takes SoCon lead in scoring defense
CULLOWHEE, N.C. — Early in Saturday’s game, blitzing University of Tennessee at Chattanooga linebacker Jerrell Lawson expected Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams to see him.
“He’s a very elusive quarterback, so I figured he saw me and was going to set me up and spin outside,” Lawson said. Adams didn’t. Lawson sacked Adams in the end zone for a safety, giving the Mocs their first points of an eventual 26-6 win over the Catamounts. The sack was part of a dominating defensive performance against the Southern Conference’s top scoring attack, as the Catamounts were held to 238 yards of total offense and two Will Horton field goals — less than half of the team’s averages of 489.8 yards and 35.8 points.
The Mocs sacked Adams and backup quarterback Will Jones four times, including 2.5 by Isaiah Mack, a career high. Mack also had a fumble recovery in the first quarter and looked as though he might score, but the ball was stripped from him and recovered by Western Carolina at its own 4-yard line.
“The only thing going through my mind was to make sure I got the ball,” Mack said. “It was probably the only time that was going to happen in my life, and I think that’s what messed me up — I didn’t think about the after.”
The safety happened three plays later.
It was the first time the Catamounts had been held out of the end zone since the Mocs beat them 51-0 on Nov. 1, 2014, but it was the UTC defense’s second time keeping a team out of the end zone this season. Tennessee Tech’s only touchdown in UTC’s 34-10 season-opening win was a defensive score.
“It was a great effort across the board,” UTC coach Tom Arth said. “We gave up some plays, some bad plays that allowed them to get down there, and when they did, our guys had a great attitude. Every time we had a chance to get on the sideline in those situations, ‘Pops’ (Derek Mahaffey) was leading the way, saying they weren’t going to get anything, they weren’t going to get in and how we had to slam the door on them, then they went out there and did it.
“You have to give them a lot of credit. It’s one thing to say it; it’s another thing to go out there and do it.”
The Mocs head into their bye week leading the SoCon in points allowed per game at 18.0, slightly ahead of Wofford’s 18.3 after the Terriers allowed 34 points in a 20-point loss at Furman.
Yet the defenders say they still are not pleased.
“We’re never satisfied,” Lawson said. “It may look like we’re doing good from the outside looking in, but we know how much better we can be; we know what type of defense we can be. We set those high standards and high goals for ourselves, and we’re going to hold ourselves up to it and won’t stop until we get there.”
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.
UTC’s Jerrell Lawson tackles Western Carolina’s Tyrie Adams in the end zone for a safety early in Saturday’s game in Culhowee, N.C. The Mocs won 26-6.