In the stunned silence that enveloped Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday night, Chattanooga players charged deliriously across the grass to gang tackle their hero, receiver Bryce Nunnelly.
Citadel players slumped in shock, victims of a heartbreaking finish for the second time in the season's first two weeks.
Nunnelly, who put on a show catching 10 passes passes for 268 yards and two scores, broke Citadel hearts with a pass he threw in overtime. He took a pitch on an end-around and tossed to a wide-open Jordan Giberti in the end zone, the 2-point conversion lifting the Mocs to a 29-28 victory before 8,076 fans in the Bulldogs' home opener.
The Citadel (0-2 overall and in the Southern Conference) battled back from a 21-7 deficit and took a 28-21 lead in overtime on Jordan Black's 5-yard run. But Chattanooga (2-0, 1-0) tied the game on Tyrell Price's 4-yard run before coach Tom Arth ordered up the game-winning 2-point try.
"These guys are spent, they are spent right now," Citadel coach Brent Thompson said of his players, who came up short in the final seconds of a 28-21 loss at No. 10 Wofford last week. "But that's good, that's the way they should be. It's going to make them tougher. We'll look back at the end of the season and remember these two games."
What went right
After an anemic offensive performance at Wofford, the Bulldogs got their triple option cranked up, rushing for 290 yards on 70 attempts and hogging the ball for more than 37 minutes.
Freshman fullback Clay Harris led the way with 70 yards on 15 tries, and quarterback Black ran for 47 yards and two scores. Black, 1 of 11 passing against Wofford, hit 6 of 10 throws for 90 yards, including a 25-yard TD strike to Grant Drakeford to cut the Mocs' lead to 21-14 at halftime.
"It was like a complete 180 from Wofford," said Black, who led a 17-play, 78-yard drive that tied the score at 21-21 in the third quarter. "We came out and fought hard, executed when we needed to. We still had a couple of penalties and a couple of turnovers, so we still need to improve. But I'm proud of the guys."
What went wrong
The Citadel's secondary was roasted early by Mocs QB Nick Tiano and Nunnelly, who caught TDs of 76 and 20 yards in the first half. Tiano was 16 of 28 for 347 yards, and ran seven times for 40 yards.
But The Citadel's defense did not give up any points in regulation in the second half as the Mocs missed two field goals and Bulldogs safety Aron Spann III picked off a pass in the end zone.
"We've got to stop digging holes for ourselves," said Spann, who also had five tackles. "We're a young team, but after a while, no one cares about that. We've got to stick our feet in the ground and push back."
It was 21-21 in the third quarter when The Citadel's Keyonte Sessions blocked a Mocs punt, teammate Jordan Williams recovering at the Chattanooga 5, prime position for a go-ahead TD.
But Williams was charged with an unsportsmanlike penalty when he tossed the ball in the air, moving the ball back to the 20. The Bulldogs had to settle for a 21-yard field goal, and Jacob Godek — who has missed 9 of his last 13 attempts in league play — shanked it wide right.
"Heartbreaker," Thompson said. "The penalty pushed us back and changed the defense on us. But no excuses, we should have put that in the end zone, or at least through the uprights."
Off to a 0-2 start in the SoCon, the Bulldogs renew their rivalry with Charleston Southern next Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The two teams haven't met since 2015, and the Bucs have won the last four meetings. This game is the first of a four-game series, with all the games set for Johnson Hagood.
"We just need to move on," said Black. "We are heading in the right direction, and we can still bounce back and turn this season around."