Bennifield totals three touchdowns as Mocs down Weber State

(STATS) – Chattanooga didn't end the regular season in familiar fashion, but a dominating performance to open the FCS playoffs was similar to recent years.

Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield accounted for three touchdowns and safety Montrell Pardue scored on a 99-yard fumble return to lead a 45-10 blowout of Weber State in the first round at Finley Stadium.

Chattanooga (9-3) advances to play a second-round matchup at No. 5 seed Sam Houston State (11-0) next Saturday. Sam Houston is ranked No. 1 in the STATS FCS Top 25.

“It's a really good win for us and our program here,” Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. “There's so many unknowns when you're playing teams you're not familiar with … I'm really proud of our guys and our football team.”

The Mocs lost three of their final five games in the regular season, finishing in a tie for second place in the Southern Conference. But for the third straight year, they opened the playoffs with a dominating win of at least 21 points.

In Chattanooga's first-ever game against Weber State, Bennifield, a left-handed junior, threw two touchdowns to wide receiver Alphonso Stewart and rushed for one as Chattanooga built a 31-0 lead. Senior running back Derrick Craine carried the ball 20 times for a game-high 160 yards and a touchdown.

Weber State (7-5), the third-place finisher in the Big Sky Conference, turned the ball over five times in its first playoff appearance since 2009. None was bigger than tight end Andrew Vollert's fumble just outside the Chattanooga goal line late in the second quarter, which Pardue picked up and raced down the field for a touchdown and 23-0 Mocs' lead.

Chattanooga had another defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter when Trevor Wright scored on a 41-yard interception return.

“We wanted to come out aggressive and build off what we did against Alabama (a 31-3 loss) last week,” linebacker Nakevion Leslie said. “We wanted to play physical and start the playoffs right.”