Hilltoppers end losing streak, hold on against Chattanooga in comeback victory

WKU graduate linebacker Eli Brown (32) celebrates a tackle against UTC on Oct. 24, 2020. The Hilltoppers would go on to win 13-10 over the Mocs. 

Matthew Hargrove

WKU (2-4), (1-2, C-USA) took down the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 13-10, this was the Mocs lone game of 2020. The Hilltoppers snap its two-game losing skid and will visit Brigham Young University (6-0) next week on Halloween.

Junior wideout Craig Burt Jr. led the way for the Hilltoppers catching the lone touchdown of the game and adding 22 yards to his credit on the season. 

It was hard to tell that the Mocs were playing in their first organized football game of the season by the way their opening drive went. 

UTC used 14 plays and half of the first-quarter to help senior quarterback Drayton Arnold begin the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown run. The signal-caller ran it in to take the early 7-0 lead against WKU.  

Firing back, redshirt senior running back Gaej Walker tied his season-high rushing total on just his first carry of the game with a 38-yard run into Chattanooga territory. 

Walker picked up 13 more yards on the drive to set up redshirt freshman kicker Brayden Narveson for a 32-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 7-3.

Both sides went three and out on their second possessions, ending the first 15 minutes. Walker led the Hilltoppers that quarter offensively with 53 rushing yards. 

“I really like what he did today, it was like last year. He ran the ball strong, broke tackles,” head coach Tyson Helton said when talking about Walker’s performance.

The Mocs put together another strong drive to begin the second quarter, moving 69-yards in 7:28. The Hilltopper defense was able to foil the momentum though on a fourth and two stop at their own 31.

WKU then ate up 8:02 of clock before redshirt sophomore Kevaris Thomas fumbled at UTC’s 20-yard line to end the first half. 

The first two quarters were silent for Thomas, only being able to put up 59 yards on 14 passing attempts.

“My hats off to Chattanooga, I thought they were a good football team,” Helton said. “It’s funny how 2020 is working, it seems like all these teams that haven’t played seem to be playing pretty good.”

WKU did not begin the second half much differently, going three and out with the help of a sack from UTC sophomore linebacker Jay Person.

After UTC had another three and out themselves, the Mocs forced a fumble on the Hilltopper 9-yard line. Senior linebacker Dionte Ruffin fumbled the ball resulting in senior defensive back Jerrell Lawson recovering the ball. 

The Mocs struck again with a 22-yard field goal from senior kicker Victor Ulmo making it 10-3 Chattanooga. 

A 23-yard carry from senior running back Jakairi Moses put the Hilltoppers inside the redzone, but once again WKU would have to settle for a field goal kick from redshirt sophomore Brayden Narveson to inch closer to the Mocs lead.

The Hilltoppers forced Chattanooga to punt right before the final frame, keeping the score at 10-6.

Graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome came into the game for Thomas completing a 38-yard pass to junior wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley to end the third frame of play. 

Pigrome stayed in at quarterback to start the fourth quarter but was forced to throw a pass on fourth and nine, giving the ball back to UTC. 

The Mocs couldn’t capitalize though, as Chattanooga tried to convert on fourth and 17 from an Arnold pass attempt to senior tight end Chris James. 

On third and eleven Pigrome attempted a deep pass to Joshua Simon but it was dropped. Haggerty punted the ball away for the third time with 7:06 remaining in regulation. 

UTC began to drive again but graduate linebacker Eli Brown sacked Arnold for a loss of eight yards to force a punt and give the Hilltoppers a chance to drive down and strike back late in the game. 

Pigrome found Simon for a 28 yard pick up to put the Hilltoppers on the 13-yard line. Then, a roughing the passer penalty put WKU inside the five-yard line.

On fourth and four, Pigrome found receiver Craig Burt Jr. in the endzone to give the Hilltoppers a 13-10 lead with 1:21 left.

“You know, Pig threw it up there, he let me go get it however I could go get it and I went to make a play,” Burt Jr. said.

WKU’s lead was almost short-lived though, as a touchdown return on the Hilltoppers kickoff was ruled a fair catch. 

“We knew something was going to go in our favor. We all knew that we needed this win, so it had to go our way. Even with that touchdown we still knew we had to stop them and get a turnover,” Brown said about UTC’s called back kickoff return. 

WKU would hold on against the Mocs to snap its two-game losing skid and head on the road for the next two games. 

After being substituted in for Thomas late in the third quarter, Pigrome added 73 passing yards to his lone touchdown throw. 

The Hilltopper offense finally got some positive production from the run game specifically in  Walker, who rushed for 88-yards on 17 carries. Moses also ran the ball well, accumulating  39-yards on five carries.

Next up the Hilltoppers travel out to Provo, Utah to take on #12 BYU who is undefeated through five games this season. Kickoff is slated for Oct. 31 at 9:15 p.m. CT, fans may tune in on ESPN to watch the game. 

Football beat reporter Matthew Hargrove can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewHargrov1