Ailym Ford gets on track, Mocs cruise in SoCon opener vs. The Citadel

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / UTC running back Ailym Ford celebrates after scoring a touchdown against The Citadel on Saturday night at Finley Stadium.

Ailym Ford has always wanted to leave a legacy “somewhere.”

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga running back has been an anchor of the program since his arrival ahead of the 2019 season. When there may have been no other quality offensive options available, there was Ford.

In the first two games of this season, though, his production hasn’t been what many are accustomed to. It’s in part because defenses have geared up to stop him, as well as the emergence of a passing attack led by new UTC quarterback Chase Artopoeus. But Mocs coach Rusty Wright didn’t feel as though Ford was running with “enough purpose,” and he challenged the veteran back this past week in practice.

Ford responded with 126 yards on the ground and his first touchdown of the season, and the Mocs dominated The Citadel to win 48-3 in the Southern Conference opener for both teams in front of 6,448 on a wet Saturday night at Finley Stadium. Now 2-1 overall, the Mocs are at Samford (3 p.m. Eastern) and at Wofford (6 p.m.) the next two weeks as they continue a run of eight SoCon games in eight Saturdays.

Ford’s rushing total against the Bulldogs moved him into second in UTC career rushing yards with 3,717, ahead of the late Gwain Durden, who finished with 3,686. Former quarterback Jacob Huesman is the all-time leader with 4,051 yards.

“Coach Wright was on me to get more downhill, and I accept that,” Ford said. “I accept coaching, because I always want to get better. I don’t want to stay stagnant; I want to keep moving forward and help the team develop along with myself.

“This school welcomed me with open arms, and I just want other guys to experience that. This was the first time we’ve blown anybody out like that since I’ve been here, and that helped build team morale.”

(READ MORE: UTC star Ailym Ford, Mocs feel prepared and conditioned to combat November woes)

For the first time this season, the offense was balanced in a way it hadn’t in the two previous games, a 41-27 loss at North Alabama and a 27-20 home win against Kennesaw State. UTC threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 183 yards. Artopoeus had 200 yards through the air, with touchdown passes to Jamoi Mayes, Camden Overton and Javin Whatley. Mayes went over 100 yards receiving for the second straight week, with 116 yards on six catches.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Schomburg had his first career completion, a 57-yard touchdown that was the first career reception for true freshman A.J. Little.

“We weren’t happy with the first game, and I think we answered back last week with a better performance,” said Artopoeus, who has six touchdowns and only nine incompletions in the past two weeks. “The theme of our team right now is just keep getting better; keep going up, keep rising, and I think that’s what we did tonight. I think we did about as good as we could do, so I’m excited for where we can keep going from there, too.

“We can still be better; we had some mental mistakes on a couple of plays. It’s not costing us games, so hopefully we can fix some of that stuff.”

Defensively, the Mocs held the Bulldogs (0-3) to 90 yards on the ground and 158 yards of total offense. Eight of The Citadel’s 11 drives lasted four or fewer plays, and the Mocs forced two turnovers: a Kelvin Morris fumble recovery and a Jordan Walker interception.

The Mocs wasted no time getting out in front, with Artopoeus finding Mayes and Overton for touchdowns. Ford and junior Lance Jackson got in on the action with touchdown runs — it was Jackson’s first touchdown since scoring two against Mercer in the 2021 spring season — and Jude Kelley knocked in the first of his two field goals to give the Mocs a 31-3 lead at halftime.

Kelley would make his second kick and Whatley and Little would also score in the second half.

“You don’t want to give somebody like that that has not had a lot of hope for two weeks hope,” Wright said. “You don’t want to let folks that have nothing to lose an opportunity to hang around, because then things start to happen for them, and that was the biggest thing I thought we did: They made mistakes, we made them pay for it, and that’s what you have to do. I think that’s what good football teams do.”

Contact Gene Henley at [email protected].