Bucs have one more shot at a SoCon win

Joe Avento • Updated Nov 16, 2019 at 9:00 AM

East Tennessee State made school history last year by sharing the Southern Conference football championship. This year’s squad is trying to avoid being on the wrong side of history — becoming the third ETSU team to lose all of its conference games.

The Bucs’ final chance at a SoCon win comes Saturday at 1 p.m. when they play host to Mercer at Greene Stadium.

ETSU began playing in the Ohio Valley Conference in 1958 before moving to the SoCon in 1979 and only twice — 1985 and 1991 — has the team lost all of its conference games. The record was 0-7 in each of those seasons.

The Bucs enter their last SoCon game of the season 2-8 overall, 0-7 in the conference, and have lost their last six games.

“Every game’s a challenge, especially the way that the last six games have gone,” said Bucs coach Randy Sanders, who was the SoCon coach of the year last season. “It’s not easy to just keep putting your pads on and go out there and competing as hard as our guys are doing. I’m really proud for how hard they are competing.”

Mercer comes in 4-6 overall, 3-4 in the SoCon. They’re coming off a 41-7 loss to Wofford a week after beating Samford, 36-33.

The Bucs clinched their share of the championship last year with a win at Mercer. That came a year after they beat the Bears on overtime in Johnson City.

“I’m sure Mercer’s angry,” Sanders said. “I’m sure they want to come up here and seek revenge for not only last year, but the last two years.”

Last year, when the Bucs went 6-2 in the conference and they didn’t beat a SoCon opponent by more than three points, it was said they were six plays from conceivably being 0-8. This season, the opposite is true. With six of the seven losses by seven points or less — including two in overtime — they’re six plays away from being 6-1. Only the 35-17 loss to Wofford wasn’t close.

“It’s not like we're getting blown out every week,” ETSU center Ben Blackmon said. “We’re one play or two away from winning. We just need to keep grinding, keep telling ourselves we’re right there, and then it makes it a lot easier, keeps us fighting because we’re right there and so close to winning.”


Before the game, 21 seniors will be recognized. Included in that number will be some big-time contributors, including Blackmon, defensive ends Nasir Player and Jason Maduafokwa, safety Artevius Smith, cornerback Jeremy Lewis and wide receiver Anthony Spagnoletti.

“I know it’s going to be emotional, but it hasn’t hit me yet,” Player said. “I think it’ll hit me on that day. It’s been a long four years and we all came in the same recruiting class and we got here and when there was no stadium, there was nothing, none of that. So it’s just going to be surreal to know what it was when we first got here, and to just look around like this is the last time we're going to play in William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium.”


Bucs running back Quay Holmes moved into the ninth spot on the school’s career rushing list with 1,806 yards with 166 last week. He has 878 this season and has chance to become the fifth ETSU player to rush for 1,000 in a season. He barely missed last year with 928.


Jay Sandos, radio voice of the Bucs, will be broadcasting his 1,000th ETSU game on Saturday. He also does ETSU basketball and has done baseball in the past.

Sandos would have hit 1,000 sooner, but he spent most of 2004 in Iraq serving in the Army and missed a lot of basketball games.


Mercer’s starting quarterback Robert Riddle suffered a leg injury in a win against The Citadel on Oct. 26. He was replaced by Kaelan Riley, who has started since.

Riley, who started five games last season and was on the SoCon’s all-freshman team in 2017, has four touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Running back Tyray Devezin, a 5-foot-8 233-pound junior, has rushed for 781 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.