Johnson City, Tenn. - East Tennessee State's defense came up big against Chattanooga, getting two interceptions that were turned into touchdowns and blocking a punt for a safety, as the Bucs rolled to a 32-10 Southern Conference football win over Chattanooga this afternoon in Johnson City. The win was the third straight for ETSU and put its record above the .500 mark for the first time this season at 5-4, 3-3 in the SoCon. Chattanooga suffered fifth straight loss to fall to 2-7, 1-6 in the SoCon. The three straight wins are the most for the Bucs since they started the 1999 season with four straight victories.
It looked as if East Tennessee State might run away with it early. After the Bucs stopped Chattanooga's opening drive on the UTC 10-yard line, Charvin Clark (Ellenwood, Ga.) charged through the line on the Mocs punt attempt and came up with his second block in as many games. The ball rolled out of the back of the endzone for a safety just 1:36 into the game.
After the safety, ETSU got the ball off the free kick on its own 38 and proceeded to put together a 10-play, 62-yard drive that culminated in a 18-yard touchdown pass from Matt Wilhjelm (Johnson City, Tenn.) to Andrew Nuckolls (Tunnel Hill, Ga.). Wilhjelm completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive for 48 yards.
Chattanooga answered with a 22-yard field goal from Ben Thompson that capped an 18-play, 76-yard drive that consumed 9:22 of the clock. UTC quarterback Chuck Spearman converted on a pair of 15-yard pass plays to keep the drive alive, but the ETSU defense stiffened when the Mocs got a first and goal, and UTC had to settle for the three points to make it 9-3 with 13:12 to play in the second quarter.
That would be about all of the offense the two teams could generate for the rest of the first half. At the end of the half ETSU's Tony Tiller (Lithonia, Ga.) picked off his sixth pass of the year with 1:48 to play to halt a Mocs drive. Corey Carter (Greenwood, S.C.) fumbled on the next play, however, and the Mocs recovered on the ETSU 11-yard line. UTC's chance to tie or take the lead evaporated when it fumbled as well. Andrew Simmons (Goose Creek, S.C.) forced the ball loose from Maurice Wilson's grasp on a fourth and one play at the ETSU two. Spearman fell on the ball, but ETSU took over on downs and ran out the clock.
ETSU's offense, which gained only 70 yards in the first half, was ignited in the third quarter when Wilhjelm hooked up with Tim Turner (Marietta, Ga.) on a 50-yard play midway through the period. Four plays later Nick Spearman (Summerville, S.C.) took it over from the two and the Bucs never looked back.
On UTC's next drive Scott Brumet (Pioneer, Tenn.) intercepted Spearman and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown that put the game out of reach for UTC.
Wilhjelm hit Nick Hendrickson (Greenville, Tenn.) with an 11-yard scoring strike and Wes Sands (Columbia, Tenn.) added a 30-yard field goal to close out the scoring for ETSU.
Chattanooga got a 40-yard scoring pass from Justin Barnes to Jeremy Grier with 1:19 to play to close out the scoring for the day.
Wilhjelm wound up completing 11 of 22 for 159 yards and two scores to lead the Bucs offense. Terry Copeland (Knoxville, Tenn.) led ETSU on the ground with 39 yards. Spearman was 12-of-24 with two interceptions for 92 yards. McNeill led the Mocs on the ground with 43 yards.
ETSU defense held UTC to just 77 yards rushing and 240 yards of total offense. It was the second straight game that the Bucs have held an opponent to under 100 yards rushing. Linebacker Mike Cornegay (Fayetteville, N.C.) led the defense with 12 tackles.