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ETSU football top Johnson City Press sports story for 2018

Joe Avento and Jeff Birchfield • Dec 29, 2018 at 4:21 PM

East Tennessee State’s football team began the season with modest expectations, but by the time the year had ended, the Bucs were the top sports story in 2018 for the Johnson City Press.

A new coach was brought in, and although Randy Sanders had an impressive resume, the general feeling was that he’d need some time to build the program into a winner.

As it turned out, his predecessor, Carl Torbush, left behind some pretty impressive talent.

In Sanders’ first season, he coached the Bucs to a share of the Southern Conference championship and the school’s first playoff appearance since 1996.

ETSU went 8-3 in the regular season before losing 34-27 to Jacksonville State in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

Along the way, the Bucs earned some impressive individual accolades. Sanders was chosen as the coach of the year in the Southern Conference. Center Matt Pyke and safety Tyree Robinson were chosen first-team All-Americans by the Associated Press. Several other players earned mention on other All-American teams.

2. ETSU basketball: nation’s longest win streak

ETSU’s basketball team won 16 games in a row to have the nation’s longest winning streak at the time. The Bucs’ school record-tying streak began with a win at Detroit Mercy. Victory No. 16 came at VMI.

It all came to an end with a 74-56 loss at UNC Greensboro, one that foreshadowed the Southern Conference tournament championship game.

ETSU ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak before making it to the SoCon final for the third year in a row. The season ended when UNCG beat the Bucs 62-47.

3. David Crockett has historic football season

After a tumultuous season that included multiple head coaches coming and going, David Crocket settled down when 25-year-old Hayden Chandley took over the program.

All Chandley did was coach the Pioneers to a 10-0 regular season and the first two playoff wins in school history. The only loss was to eventual Class 5A state champion Knox Central in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Quarterback Cade Larkins made the Pioneers go and was honored as the Johnson City Press Elite 11 player of the year as well as an all-state selection. He was also a finalist for the state’s Mr. Football Award.

4. Champion E-Twins survive; JC Cards thrive

The Elizabethton Twins shook off talk that they might be leaving their home and won the Appalachian League championship for the 12th time, sweeping the Princeton Rays in two games in the championship series.

After the season, the Elizabethton City Council voted to partially fund renovations at Joe O’Brien Field to keep the team in town. The Minnesota Twins are paying a share of the expenses as well.

Meanwhile, seven miles away, the Johnson City Cardinals set another franchise attendance record when 68,881 fans came through the gate for 31 home games.

Johnson City was the Appalachian League’s organization of the year, while general manager Zac Clark was the executive of the year.

5. Science Hill wins state golf title

Science Hill’s fourth state golf championship came when the final round was rained out at Manchester’s WillowBrook Golf Course.

Jackson Skeen was co-medalist after opening with a round of 71.

The second round of the 36-hole tournament was rained out.

Sean Anderson shot 72, Gavin Nickels had a 73 and Tarun Hoskere had a 75. It all added up to a 13-stroke victory for the Hilltoppers.

6. BMS turns into Busch league

Bristol Motor Speedway had two of the most memorable races of the entire NASCAR Cup Series season in 2018.

Kyle Busch used the old bump-and-run tactic to move Kyle Larson out of the way and to go on to win the Food City 500 in April.

It was Kurt Busch, the elder brother, who drove away with the trophy for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race in August. Once again, Larson was left frustrated after a second straight runner-up finish.

The August race was chosen by fans as the top NASCAR race of the season in a recent internet poll.

7. Neglia DQ leads to Hutchins winning state

Dobyns-Bennett’s Sasha Neglia was leading Science Hill’s Jenna Hutchins coming to the final stretch of the TSSAA Large Schools girls’ state cross country championship when controversy ensued.

With spectators in the way as they were coming to the home straightaway, Neglia cut in front of a tree she was supposed to go behind. She got back on course after having cut 20 meters or so. She crossed the finish line in 17:25, appearing to win a third straight state championship. She was later disqualified after a lengthy discussion among officials which resulted in Hutchins, who completed the course in 17:37, winning the state championship.

On the boys’ side of the meet, University High romped to a second straight Small Schools state title.

8. Jason Witten retires, joins Monday Night Football

Elizabethton native Jason Witten retired after spending 15 years as the Dallas Cowboys’ record-setting right end. Witten wound up with 1,152 receptions for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl 11 times.

The 2012 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner left the Cowboys to become the main analyst on Monday Night Football, where his performance has led to mixed reviews.

9. ETSU wins home golf tourney for first time ever

ETSU’s golf team had won 55 tournaments during Fred Warren’s 33 years at the school, but none of them had been in their big home tournament.

Finally that changed in October when the Bucs won the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at the Ridges in their 21st try.

ETSU led wire to wire and wound up one stroke ahead of Louisville when sophomore Shiso Go got up and down for par after his approach shot on the final hole stopped just feet from going into a pond.

Go had tied his own tournament record in the first round with a 9-under-par 63.

10. Johnson Citian wins Kingsport Speedway title

Zeke Shell won three races at Kingsport Speedway in 2018, but it was the big trophy at the end of the season that had him celebrating the most.

The 31-year-old driver had an adventurous season, which included nearly destroying his car in a crash with rival driver Kres VanDyke in July. It took the help from his fellow competitors working with Shell to get his No. 1 Ford back on track for the next race.

Just weeks after the violent crash, Shell returned to the winners circle and he went into the final race of the season with an 11-point lead.

Supposedly cruising to the title, Shell was caught up in an accident with just 13 laps to go. Back in the pack, he made a furious charge to fourth place to become the first Johnson City driver to win a NASCAR late model title since Brad Teague in 1974.

 

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