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  • Daniel Hooker

WCU’s McCollum Caps Wild Saturday with a Walk-Off Field Goal

Redshirt senior kicker Richard McCollum split the uprights on a 32-yard game-winning, walk-off field goal to cap a wild Saturday afternoon in Southern Conference action as No. 17/11 Western Carolina rallied in the game’s final minute to upend No. 20/24 Chattanooga 52-50 in a battle of ranked FCS teams at Finley Stadium.

Chattanooga (4-2, 3-1 SoCon) scored the go-ahead touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion on a theatric catch in the back of the endzone on a jump pass by tailback Ailym Ford to pull in front 50-49 with just 53 seconds remaining. But the nation’s leader in passer efficiency – WCU sophomore QB Cole Gonzales – marched the Catamounts into field goal range on a trio of completions to AJ Colombo before McCollum hit the game winner.

For McCollum, the walk-off winner represents his second in his last two games played in the state of Tennessee. The Sanford, N.C., native hit a walk-off winner in last year’s “Blue Ridge Border Battle” to down ETSU in Johnson City, Tenn.

Desmond Reid rushed for a career-high 211 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries before exiting the game in the third quarter­ while Gonzales tossed three TD passes on 13-of-25 passing, two of which going to classmate Censere Lee to pace the Catamount offense. Backup tailback Branson Adams rumbled for 62 yards on six touches – averaging 10.2 yards per carry – with a 37-yard touchdown.

Ed Jones IV gave the Catamounts a 49-42 lead with a pick-six interception return with less than six minute remaining in regulation. The Mocs responded with a grueling 14-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 4:54 and ended with a Chase Artopoeus five-yard touchdown strike to pull the home squad to within one, 49-48.

Opting to go for the win rather than the PAT for the tie, the Mocs used a direct snap to Ford who ran three steps towards the line of scrimmage before lofting the football to the back of the endzone for Camden Overton. UTC’s tight end initially caught the pass before bobbling it as he neared the ground. For the Mocs, the ball fortuitously landed safely back on Overton’s body for the go-ahead score inside the final 60 seconds, setting up the frantic finish and game-winning field goal.

WCU’s offense ran 36 fewer plays on Saturday – 84-to-48 – but again eclipsed the 500-yard mark with 551 yards of total offense, averaging 11.48 yards per play. The Catamounts were about as balanced as you could be, passing for 276 yards while rushing for 275 in the winning effort.

WCU overcame a career day for Chattanooga wideout Javin Whatley who caught 11 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns while adding 116 return yards. Artopoeus finished 29-of-45 passing for 399 yards and five touchdowns, but was sacked three times and intercepted twice coming on the first career pick by redshirt freshman Ken Moore Jr., and the pick-six by Jones IV.

Corner CJ Williams finished with a career-best nine tackles to lead the Catamounts with safety Andreas Keaton credited with eight stops in the win.

Western Carolina (5-1, 3-0 SoCon) enjoys its bye week before returning home for back-to-back home games against conference contenders Furman (4-1, 2-0 SoCon) on Oct. 21 for Heroes Day and Mercer (4-2, 2-1 SoCon) on Homecoming Oct. 28.

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