Bucs have learned to win the close ones

Joe Avento • Oct 29, 2018 at 5:47 PM

Close calls have become the norm for East Tennessee State’s football team, and as long as his squad keeps coming out on top, Bucs coach Randy Sanders says he doesn’t care what the margin of victory is.

“We’ve made a living out of winning close ones, no question about that,” Sanders said Monday during his weekly news conference at Greene Stadium. “Whether it’s a one-point win or a 40-point win, it doesn’t matter. Wins are wins and losses are losses. It would be nice to be able to relax a little bit. For the most part I sleep pretty well after the games because I’m usually tired when they’re over.”

ETSU’s latest victory, a 45-43 triple-overtime thriller against Western Carolina, was the latest and most exciting in a series of close games where one play each week could have swung the outcome.

The Bucs are 5-1 in the Southern Conference, and the five victories have been by a combined total of 13 points. In five wins, ETSU’s average score has been 28.8-26.2, less than a field goal per game keeping a team tied for first place.

While Sanders, whose team is 7-2 overall and ranked 22nd in the STATS FCS poll and 23rd by the coaches, is thrilled to be winning, he says his team could probably do a little more to avoid needing fourth-quarter comebacks.

“As soon as we learn to play every play like it’s the most important play of the game — because you never know the first play or when there’s two minutes left and it’s fourth-and-10 — they’re both just as important,” he said. “If you do it with the same intensity the same sense of urgency, a lot of times you don’t get in those situations late. That’s where we’ve got to grow as a football team.”


The Bucs have two regular-season games remaining, beginning with Saturday’s road game with Mercer. Kickoff is 3 p.m. in Macon, Georgia.

Mercer, 4-4 overall, 3-2 in the SoCon, is coming off a 42-21 loss to Wofford, the only SoCon team to have beaten the Bucs. It’s the Bears’ homecoming game.

“Good football team,” Sanders said. “Offensively, they’ve got a number of weapons. The quarterback is playing very well. They have some receivers who can make some plays, change the game. They’re playing well as a team right now.”


Quarterback Austin Herink orchestrated a comeback from a 30-15 deficit with 6:10 left against Western Carolina. His two-point conversion run with 10 seconds left tied the game and his second two-point run in the third overtime provided the wining margin.

It was the eighth comeback victory of Herink’s career. Four of them have come in the fourth quarter.

“Austin shows a lot of grit, a lot of integrity, a lot of character in the way he plays,” Sanders said. “It’s far from perfect, far from what I want out of our quarterbacks. But at the same time, he keeps playing, keeps competing. He’s tough. He’s physically tough and he’s proven to be pretty mentally tough.”

Herink passed for 284 yards and ran for 45 more. He threw three interceptions, giving him five picks in the past two weeks.

“The past couple of games we’ve turned it over too much,” Sanders said “We have to do a much better job taking care of the football.”


When asked about a potential FCS playoff bid, Sanders wasn’t interested in elaborating on his feelings. He didn’t do a Jim Mora, but he certainly didn’t want to talk about it.

“I’m not worried about that,” Sanders said “I’m just worried about Game 10. That’s the only thing I’m worried about right now.”

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