In His Time: Produced by Tate Johnson, MocsVision Production Director. Story written by Shane Shoemaker, GoMocs.com writer. Contributors: Chris Goforth, Interview/Historian.
If there’s one thing you could say about the late Scrappy Moore, it’s that he wasn’t afraid of good competition. In fact, you could probably say he prided himself on that. Throughout Scrappy’s career as head coach for the Mocs, he and his teams, at times, faced a gauntlet of good teams that were considered far superior to his Mocs that he himself scheduled them against. Scrappy was well known in the world of college football and greatly respected by all those with whom he came in contact with. Names like Wally Butts, Frank Thomas, General Robert Neyland and Paul “Bear” Bryant all had a good standing, ongoing relationship with Scrappy back then, which in turn led to the Mocs facing the likes of Georgia, Clemson, Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama, among others.
Scrappy’s teams rarely came out on the side of victory in these mismatched battles against higher caliber teams, however, they were never known to be quitters as they always made a valiant effort against any opponent they were asked to face. Scrappy always had his teams well-prepared as “he never led on to the fact that, ‘you can’t beat them,'” class of 1964 and former halfback Jerry Harris said. “Our first line people were as good as any of most other teams we played. But when you got to the second guy, the third guy, that was often times the difference.” Though lack of talent depth was a constant issue during his time, by the end of his career, spanning over three decades, Scrappy had an overall record of 170–148–14 as a head coach for the Mocs. There was one victory that measured much larger than the other 169, though — the 1958 Tennessee game.
Leading up to the game in Knoxville on Nov. 8, 1958, Scrappy had never beaten the University of Tennessee (0-18), and neither had the University of Chattanooga as a whole (0-26-2). Only in 1905, when UC was Grant University, did they defeat the Vols in a 5-0 victory.
Whether it was media or fan infusion, or both, the games against Tennessee just seemed more important than all the others, and ones that even Scrappy may have either consciously or unconsciously put great emphasis towards as a defining moment in his career if he should ever find himself on the winning side of one.
October 12, 1957, was the sixteenth consecutive meeting between the Mocs and Vols, and it was the first time victory seemed a reality. The Vols, however, pulled off another victory that day as most had expected by a score of 28-13, but it wasn’t as similar a defeat as years prior. “I think, if you talk to anybody on that team that played, they’ll tell you … we should have beaten them the year before,” Skipper Nardo said. “But we had a better team than they did. And I knew that all along after the ’57 game.”
The Mocs always seemed to play the Vols tough, and any team coached by Scrappy was going to live up to the moniker of their coaches nickname. So much so that the Knoxville News-Sentinel started referring to the game as the “Chattanooga Scare.” There had certainly been closer defeats as far as point differentials were concerned throughout Scrappy’s career against the Vols (1954, 20-14), but he believed this particular game, even in defeat, was something special. “Greatest game a team of mine has ever played against Tennessee,” Scrappy said.
It must be said, however, that the Vols weren’t necessarily playing with a full deck and were somewhat depleted of their usual talent by the 1957 season, and Scrappy acknowledged that even after the game: “I’ve been watching Tennessee games for many years, and this one — even with about 10 good boys out with injuries — looked pretty good to me,” Scrappy said.
Bud Ford, a University of Tennessee historian, reiterated as much: “Obviously, Tennessee was not at the realm of where they should have been at the time,” Ford said. “They were struggling a little bit coming off ’56 when they had a really outstanding team with Johnny Majors. They were rebuilding.”
For the ’57 game, UC was led by outstanding quarterback John Green, who went 17-29 for 152 yards that day — which was a great day for a quarterback back then. The Mocs nearly outgained the Vols in every statistical category, including net yards and first downs. It was the mistakes that cost the Mocs the advantage in the win column, however, as the Vols turned two fumbles and a blocked punt into touchdowns. “Chattanooga dominated everything but the scoring,” the Chattanooga Daily Times wrote. Scrappy’s Mocs would finish with a 4-5-1 record in 1957, going 3-3 the rest of the season after the game in Knoxville.
The 1958 season opened on Friday, Sept. 19, 1958, and with high expectations. “We knew we had a good team,” Skipper Nardo said. The Mocs started with Jacksonville State at Chamberlain Field, dominating them 55-0, followed by another win over Abilene Christian. Then, it was a trip to Auburn, losing 30-8. The next two wins came at the expense of Austin Peay and MTSU. The 4-1 Chattanooga team seemed to be headed in line for a stellar season until a loss at Memphis and an upset loss by one point in Cookeville against Tennessee Tech put a bit of a damper on things.
The game against the Tennessee Tech Eagles could have been a pivotal point in the season because of how it ended. “It was not easy to put behind us, that’s for sure,” freshman end Ronnie McClurg said. The Mocs took the lead 12-7 with only 6:40 left in the game, although missing a two-point conversion, which became crucial in the end . The Eagles came back on a frigid 45-degree night when halfback Joe Whitson hit a 25-yard pass — their only completed pass of the night — to John Moorehead for the go-ahead score and the victory. It was Tech’s first and only victory in 11 attempts over the Mocs at the time, and one of the few times Scrappy and his Mocs weren’t considered the underdogs.
That wouldn’t be the last time two teams from the state of Tennessee faced each and the underdog came out on top in the ’58 season, though.
Even after the loss to Tennessee Tech, the ’58 Mocs team were focused, bringing with them a steam engine locomotive full of confidence and fervor to Knoxville that started in the week of practice leading up to the game — one player broke both bones in his right leg while going through defensive simulations — carried over into its faithful fandom, and didn’t end until hours after the game in an unforgettable scene.
By gameday, it would be the 11th ranked in small colleges Mocs at 4-3 against the unranked Vols at 2-4. Around 2,000 raucous Chattanooga fans piled into what was then known as Shields-Watkins Field in Knoxville, many chanting, “Beat Tennessee.” Scrappy, in his typical humorous fashion, was reported as saying, “Beat Tennessee? We can’t even beat Tennessee Tech.” Even so, Mocs’ fans had reasons to believe. The faithful hopeful that this would be the year instead of next year.
It took until nearly the second half for a score to occur. With 50 seconds left before the end of the first half, Scrappy and the Mocs took and held their first ever lead over a Vols team at 7-0. “Tennessee, when we hit them in the mouth, they didn’t know quite how to take it because we really got after them on defense, and offensively we moved the ball extremely well,” McClurg said.
The Mocs didn’t look back. The Scrappy band was once again led by prolific senior quarterback John Green, who on the first score went 80 yards in nine plays, followed by a Bob Waller extra point. Green ran it in from the one-yard line for the score, but his most important play of the drive was when he converted on a fourth-and-4 from the Tennessee 32-yard line completing one of his 12 of 20 passes of the day for a gain of 30 yards.
Entering the third quarter, they didn’t let up, in large part thanks to the guys in the trenches. “The Mocs’ backs were terrific all the way, but much of the credit for the school’s greatest football victory must go to the courageous, well-coached, spirited band of lineman,” Knoxville News-Sentinel sportswriter Frank (Red) Bailes wrote. “They kept Tennessee’s offense bottled up most of the game and opened up holes repeatedly for the Mocs ball carriers.”
The group didn’t score again until the fourth quarter after the Vols turned the ball over on downs on the Chattanooga 43 when Tennessee’s Gene Etter couldn’t convert a fourth-and-2. Don Hill scored the Mocs final touchdown of the day for the Mocs from the 1 on a 14 play, six minute, 57-yard drive to make it 14-0.
With 4:50 left to play, Bowden Wyatt’s Vols, led by Etter, made one last ditch effort to reach the scoreboard. On a nine play, 76-yard drive, Etter connected with Don Stephens for a 26-yard touchdown . Adding further insult to what had to be an already deflated Vols squad, lineman Jerry Arnold blocked Etter’s extra point attempt with five seconds left in the game.
“I just got lucky,” said Arnold in a 2014 story from the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I just walked right in there. Nobody touched me.” Arnold called it “the highlight of my whole athletic life — blocking that kick.”
As time expired and the scoreboard read 14-6, the Mocs had done the unthinkable as their veteran head coach was promptly carried off the field atop his players’ shoulders — an honor that he had surely deserved long before that moment in Knoxville. This was a happy Scrappy. “This is unquestionably the greatest thrill I’ve ever had in football or any other game,” Scrappy told the Knoxville News-Sentinel after the game. “I can think of nothing more I’ve ever wanted more than to beat Tennessee …”
With the game now concluded, emotions were at an all-time high after winning the biggest game in school history, and a teary-eyed Scrappy was back in the locker room, sharing a moment with his players and coaches. But on the field, there was still action taking place near the endzone, although there was no one wearing helmets and pads or scoring touchdowns.
There was a full-blown riot taking place. Chattanooga fans were so overcome with jubilation that their team won they stormed the field, aiming to tear down the goal post — which they eventually did. “I couldn’t believe what was happening down on the field,” John Guthrie said. Guthrie was a UC student from 1956-60 and drove the two hours from Chattanooga to Knoxville on a double date to attend the game. When the chaos began to erupt out onto the field, the four of them stood in the stands and watched. “Because back then, you didn’t have the security at a football game that you have now, even in Knoxville. And they probably had 20 to 25,000 people there. So, the goal post came down before they could get the rest of the Knoxville police force there.”
This led to a melee between opposing fans on each side, which would eventually transition to a battle against the 100 or so police officers that arrived. The opposition became so ruinous against the police that it would lead to officers employing everything from billy clubs, fire hoses and even tear gas in attempts to quell the situation. Local newspapers reported as many as 10 people were arrested that night, accounting for students from both universities. Some policemen were seriously injured, with at least one suffering a severe concussion after a bottle was thrown at his head, with another suffering a broken ankle. By the end of the night, it was reported around $2,000 worth of damages were done. Accounting for inflation, that would be almost $19,000 in 2021.
“It was a bunch of young college kids down there out of their mind, some of them with too much to drink, probably,” Guthrie said. “But their team had won, and it was an unexpected win. I think it was more of a natural reaction. They poured on that field just like molasses on pancakes. There was no stopping it. I would have described it more as an enthusiastic outpouring of some kids who never expected to win that ballgame.
“We couldn’t believe it. We were excited. I wanted to go down to the field, but we didn’t. I guess I’m glad of that — maybe I’m not glad of it [laughing]. I just really couldn’t believe it. And riding all the way home it was still hard to grasp and hard to believe. The next day or two in the papers — and they gave us off Monday, by the way, if the guys won the ballgame, so we had Monday off, which was an absolute rarity. But I read as much as I could about the upset. And it was on the TV and the radios and so forth. So, you relished all that, you know? It was good to be on the winning side against the University of Tennessee.”
The Mocs would go on to lose their next two games that season, respectively to Tampa and rival Southern Miss., finishing 5-5. While it’s easy to assume Scrappy wasn’t pleased by how the season ended — or with a .500 record — he, like his team, the university and its fans would never forget what happened that season in Knoxville. “It’s still a brag point for us, because, you know, the smaller campus beat the larger campus that day,” former UTC Assistant Vice Chancellor for Alumni Affairs, Jayne Holder said. “It just shows a school our size can do anything if you put the work and the effort and have a passion for it into it.”
The often high-pitched voiced coach left many impressions and accomplished much during his time between being a player and coach, but beating Tennessee as head football coach of the Mocs was an achievement that he would certainly hang his famed fedora hat on, all but putting a linchpin on his legacy. “That probably was the epitome of Scrappy Moore,” Bud Ford said, “because that was certainly a highlight to him, winning that particular game and beating Tennessee after so many years.”