Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina’s potent offensive attack was held in check by Chattanooga’s stingy defense on Saturday afternoon as the Catamounts were never able to find a rhythm in dropping their first home game of the year at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field, 26-6, to the Mocs in Southern Conference action.
Chattanooga QB Nick Tiano completed 22 of 28 passes for 204 yards and two first-half touchdowns – both to WR Joseph Parker – as UTC (5-2, 3-2 SoCon) snapped its two-game seasonal slide while relegating WCU to its third-straight defeat on the year. The Mocs amassed 348 yards of total offense including 204 passing and 144 through the air while chewing-up nearly 38 minutes of game clock in scoring their fifth-straight road victory in the head-to-head series.
Western Carolina (3-3, 1-3 SoCon) was held to a season-low 238 yards of total offense – roughly half of its seasonal average entering the game – by a touted Chattanooga defense. The Catamounts committed three turnovers in the loss, getting one back just seconds after putting it on the carpet but ultimately surrendering a sack for a safety to open the game’s scoring.
Sophomore placekicker Will Horton provided WCU’s only points on the day, connecting on a pair of field goals including a career-long 47-yarder just before the halftime horn to light the scoreboard for the home squad.
Redshirt junior QB Tyrie Adams was limited to 88 yards passing on just 6-of-13 passing with an interception while backup redshirt freshman Will Jones was 3-of-5 for 68 yards. Adams was sacked three times, finishing with negative rushing yards, while Jones ran for 12 total yards with one sack.
A week after spreading the football around to 10 different receivers, WCU’s season-low nine receptions were thrown to just three different players. Junior transfer Nate Mullen led the way with four catches for 65 yards, just missing a touchdown on a 15-yard gain on the opening possession of the third quarter but was ruled out-of-bounds inside the one-yard line. Running back Connell Young caught three passes for 38 yards to accompany his team-best 72 rushing yards for 110 all-purpose yards, while redshirt senior WR Jordan Mathis caught a pair of tosses for 53 total yards.
After forcing a 3-and-out on UTC’s opening possession, the recent fumble issues for the Catamount offense again showed up the first time WCU had the football. On a third-down and three play from its own 37-yard line, Adams had the ball stripped with defensive lineman Isaiah Mack scooping at the 33-yard line with nothing but green turf in front of him. However, preseason All-America offensive lineman Zach Weeks chased Mack down and punched the football loose from behind for a second fumble on the same play from scrimmage with Young pouncing on the bouncing ball to maintain possession.
Unfortunately for WCU, which was backed up to its own five-yard line, Adams couldn’t escape the pressure from LB Jerrell Lawson who dragged the elusive QB down in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead for the Mocs.
Midway through the first quarter, UTC drove 75 yards in eight plays with Tiano finding Parker from 28-yards out for the first of his two scores and the 9-0 advantage. Placekicker Victor Ulmo hit a 39-yard field goal ahead of a second Parker TD reception to stake the visitors to a 19-0 lead headed towards intermission.
Set up with positive field position after a career-long 37-yard punt return by Daquan Patten, the Catamounts were poised for their first touchdown in the closing moments of the first half. However, consecutive negative yardage plays including a nine-yard loss on a sack pushed WCU back and the Catamounts had to settle for Horton’s 47-yard field goal, trailing at intermission, 19-3.
Spurred by the momentum of the score before halftime, the Catamount offense mounted its best drive of the day on the opening possession of the second half. Jones marched WCU 74 yards to the one-yard line as Mullen was ruled out on a near TD reception. However, following the replay timeout, a muffed exchange in the offensive backfield resulted in a second lost fumble, thwarting a would-be scoring drive and zapping the energy from the Purple & Gold clad sideline.
Chattanooga tailback Tyrell Price, who rushed 29 times for a season-high 135 yards, pushed the game out of reach with a three-yard TD rush at the end of the third quarter and WCU was only able to muster a second Horton 3-pointer to provide the final tally.
WCU finished 2-for-4 in red zone chances on Saturday – both field goals as the Catamounts were 0-for-4 when it came to scoring touchdowns. Aside from the third quarter fumble at the one-yard line, WCU had a fourth down red zone opportunity midway through the fourth quarter but a Jordan Mathis pass attempt to Tyrie Adams fell just out of Adams’ reach. UTC responded with a grueling 13-play, nearly eight-minute drive that finished the game.
Sophomore LB Ty Harris led three Catamounts in double figures with a career-best 11 tackles while seniors Mitchell Chancey and Marvin Tillman were credited with 10 stops apiece in the loss. For Chancey, the 10 tackles marked his sixth-straight game reaching double-figure tackles this season. Defensive lineman Ricky Palao collected his first career sack for WCU.
Western Carolina travels to Mercer (3-3, 2-1 SoCon) next Saturday, Oct. 20 for a 4:00 pm kickoff at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Ga.