Chattanooga delivered a message Saturday night in Statesboro: Last season was no fluke.
A year after pulling off a last-second, one-point victory at home, the Mocs stunned Georgia Southern again, this time with a hard-fought, back-and-forth affair. UTC junior Thomas Hinton made the most of his first career touchdown reception, reeling in a 25-yard pass from Antonio Miller in overtime to put Chattanooga on top for good, 45-38, before 18,785 fans at Paulson Stadium.
Georgia Southern didn’t muster much offense in its only overtime possession, and Jayson Foster’s final attempt sailed over the outstretched hands of Michael McIntosh, who laid in the end zone in disbelief while the Mocs stormed the field in celebration.
The Eagles didn’t want to take anything away from the Mocs, but felt they blew the game with four turnovers — one interception and three fumbles — and eight penalties for 72 yards.
“This was a game we felt we shouldn’t have lost, and a lot of the guys are disappointed,” said junior receiver Raja Andrews. “We’ve got a lot to prove now.”
The Eagles dropped to 2-1 on the year and 0-1 in Southern Conference play while the Mocs (1-2, 1-0) won for the first time in Statesboro in 11 tries. Chattanooga was led by Miller (12-for-27, 161 yds, 3 TDs), the senior quarterback who played for the first time since being injured in the Mocs’ opener. Miller threw his first-career three-TD game.
“This is a big win for our program,” UTC coach Rodney Allison said. “I’m really proud for our guys. We are a different team with Antonio Miller at quarterback.”
Foster, the reigning national and Southern Conference offensive player of the week, was once again the dynamo for the Eagle offense, rushing for 210 yards and three scores on 26 carries. He completed 17 of 20 passes for 120 yards and one interception. Foster is the only player in GSU history to record three straight 200-yard rushing games.
GSU running back Mike Hamilton scored on 3-yard run to tie the game at 38 and force overtime with 1:17 to go in regulation. Moments earlier Chattanooga went up 38-31 on Erroll Wynn’s 19-yard score on Statue of Liberty play. UTC’s TD followed linebacker Chris Johnson’s recovery of a Hamilton fumble, which allowed the Mocs to take over at the GSU 35. Wynn finished with 125 yards and two scores on 27 carries.
Chattanooga took a 31-28 with 1:38 to play in the third quarter when UTC senior defensive back Jeff Phillips recovered a Foster fumble and returned it 63-yards for a score. The Eagles tied it with 10:33 to go on Jesse Hartley’s 19-yard field goal.
“You can’t turn the ball over and expect to beat a good team like Chattanooga,” Eagle coach Chris Hatcher said. “I think we were as good as them today. We just had some costly turnovers that put us in a bind.”
Georgia Southern trailed 17-14 at the half before Foster broke loose on the Eagles’ first possession of the third quarter, sprinting for a 60-yard TD, the fourth longest run of his career. The score put the Eagles ahead 21-17 with 12:57 left in the third quarter, and less than three minutes later he was in the end zone again, this time on a 14-yard haul to stretch GSU’s lead to 28-17.
But UTC kept battling and pulled within four points midway through the third quarter when Miller found Blue Cooper on a 5-yard scoring strike.
UTC took its first lead of the game — a 14-7 edge — late in the opening quarter after linebacker Edward Sawyer picked off a Foster pass and returned it nine yards to the GSU 18. Three plays later, Miller found Matthew Angeloni wide open in the far right corner of the end zone on a 20-yard TD pass. The Mocs pushed their lead to 17-7 with a 25-yard field goal on their next drive, which was kept alive by a 15-yard personal foul by GSU.
Georgia Southern cut the lead to three at 17-14 nearly six minutes before the half when Hamilton ran in from three yards out for his first TD as an Eagle.
GSU took the lead first, scoring on its first possession of the night when Foster capped a nine-play, 92-yard drive with a 36-yard TD haul. Chattanooga answered immediately, knotting the game at 7-7 on a 2-yard score by Wynn.
UTC then recovered an onside kick and attempted to keep the momentum going but went three-and-out the possession. Georgia Southern was poised to take the lead, but the 86-yard punt return for a touchdown by Foster was negated by a holding call against the Eagles.
“What is very disappointing is I thought we didn’t play or coach to the best of our ability,” Hatcher said.
Georgia Southern continues SoCon play Saturday, hosting Western Carolina (1-3) for a 3:30 p.m. game.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.