Chattanooga, Tenn. - - Western Carolina forced three fumbles - two recovered in the end zone for touchdowns - and running back Corey Holloway eclipsed the 100-yard mark adding a pair of scores on the ground as the Catamounts halted an eight-game losing skid with a strong, 45-7, road win over Chattanooga Saturday night at Finley Stadium.
WCU (4-1, 2-0 SoCon) tallied a season-high seven sacks - matching its seasonal total entering the game - to lead a strong defensive effort that limited the Mocs to 172 yards of total offense including just 49 on the ground. Combined, WCU's seven sacks totaled 63 yards in losses.
"All I can say right now is wow," said WCU sixth-year head coach Mark Speir during post-game comments on the Catamount Sports Network. "We had an emotional win over Samford last week, but we had a great week of preparation and I felt like we played with a lot of confidence tonight. I can't say enough about our defense as we were totally swarming to the ball. It was a physical football game.
Speir added, "Our defense, they were just lights out. That was as good of a defensive performance that I've seen in a while. And to do it against a quality opponent like Chattanooga at their place, I couldn't be more proud."
Redshirt senior Tahjai Watt and classmate Ezavian Dunn were credited with two sacks apiece, while linebackers Jacquez Williams and A.J. Newman and transfer lineman Nate Link each tallied one as the defensive pressure up front disrupted the Chattanooga offense most of the night. Dunn finished with a team-high seven tackles while defensive backs Tra Hardy and Marvin Tillman were both credited with six stops. Watt was a disruptive force from his outside linebacker position all night.
Up Next: Western Carolina at Wofford - Saturday, Oct. 7 in Spartanburg, S.C. - "We're going to need the Catamount Nation in full force in Spartanburg Saturday because it's going to take all of us. We need to paint that stadium purple."
Entering the game without causing a fumble all season, the defense forced three on Saturday and were able to recover each. Newman both forced and recovered a fumble including one for a touchdown, while Link fell on a second loose football for a score. Redshirt freshman Curtis Roach tallied WCU's special teams takeaway with a fumble recovery that was forced by Jacquez William, ultimately setting up Holloway's second rushing score.
The Catamounts again got out to a fast start and ultimately raced to a 38-0 lead before the Mocs were able to light the Finley Stadium scoreboard early in the fourth quarter. Holloway broke the scoreless deadlock late in the first quarter with a one-yard rushing TD, capping a six-play, 75-yard drive. WCU would again find points before the frame ended as Will Horton split the uprights from 39 yards out inside the final two minutes of the opening quarter for a 10-0 lead for the visitors after one.
The second quarter proved to be the decisive one for Western Carolina - and it came from the defensive unit. WCU capitalized on two, second quarter fumbles by the UTC QBs. Watt dropped UTC quarterback Nick Tiano at the goal line, jarring the football loose where Newman corralled it for six points and a 17-0 WCU advantage. Two drives later, it was Newman who knocked the ball free on a sack where Link was able to pounce on it for another score and a 24-0 edge in which WCU carried into the halftime locker room.
WCU's third takeaway on the night came on special teams as the Mocs looked for any sort of spark to get things turned around. Chattanooga attempted a fake punt, but a low snap coupled with the pressure off the edge from Jacquez Williams forced UTC punter Colin Brewer to drop the football where it was kicked around before Roach was able to secure it at the goal line. One-play later, Holloway leapt into the end zone for a commanding 31-0 lead.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrie Adams completed just 8-of-15 passes, but tallied 125 yards through the air - an average over 15 yards per completion - including a 38-yard scoring strike to redshirt senior Steffon Hill. Adams added 44 yards on the ground, WCU's second-leading rusher to account for 169 yards of total offense. Back-up QB Ray Smith completed each of his three attempts for 45 yards including a 26-yard pitch to Jordan Mathis for a fourth quarter score, his first TD pass.
Mathis led the five different Catamounts to record receptions in the win, hauling in five catches, his first of the season. Hill caught two passes for a game-high 72 yards.
Due to injury, three Chattanooga quarterbacks saw action on Saturday. Starter Alejandro Bennifield was on the receiving end of a vicious blind side sack by Watt and was forced to leave the game after completing just 3-of-5 passes for 29 yards in his first action of the season. Transfer Nick Tiano, who had been at the helm of the UTC offense, finished 11-of-23 for 88 yards, but was sacked four times and was tagged with the two TD-scoring fumbles. Tiano added 22 yards on the ground, UTC's second-leading rusher, before exiting the game with an apparent shoulder injury.
Freshman signal caller Dominic Caldwell finished off the game after Tiano left with an apparent shoulder injury suffered on a tackle on a running play. Caldwell went 1-for-2 for six yards including UTC's lone score on a six-yard score to running back Darrell Bridges. Tailback Richardre Bagley finished with 34 yards on 10 carries while receiver Bingo Morton hauled in a game-high six passes for 49 yards for the Chattanooga offense.
Western Carolina remains on the road as it visits nationally-ranked Wofford (4-0, 2-0 SoCon) next Saturday at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 pm.