A huge crowd is expected at Greene Stadium when the 17th-ranked Bucs entertain Samford in a game that will determine the Southern Conference champion. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
ETSU (8-2, 6-1) locked up at least a share of the league title two weeks ago, but a victory over Samford (5-5, 4-3) would give the Bucs the outright championship and the SoCon’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. A loss would leave them sharing the title and hoping for an at-large bid.
Two other teams — Wofford (7-3, 6-2) and Furman (5-4, 5-2) — can still share the SoCon championship with ETSU. Wofford is finished with conference play and Furman plays Mercer on Saturday.
Samford, the preseason pick to win the SoCon, fell out of contention last week when it blew a 21-0 lead in a 42-27 loss to The Citadel.
No matter what happens on Saturday, ETSU’s seniors being honored before the game will look back on their final year fondly. This is the group that lost to Division III teams Maryville and Emory & Henry along the way to getting the program restarted.
“Those were some hard games to lose, but at the same time we were all 18, 19 years old and now we are 22, 23,” ETSU linebacker Dylan Weigel said. “So the tables have turned. We said we would get our payback. We always knew we could come back, compete at this level.”
Saturday’s game could come down to the matchup between ETSU’s defense and Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges, who is chasing a pair of milestones.
Hodges became the conference’s all-time leader in total offense last week. This week he’s trying to reach the 4,000-yard passing mark again — he needs 121 — and break Steve McNair’s all-time FCS record of 14,496 passing yards. A 317-yard day would do the trick.
Hodges threw 69 passes last week against The Citadel, completing 43 for 404 yards. He has 32 touchdown passes this year.
“They’re going to come out slinging it around,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “It’s going to be the kind of game that pass rushers enjoy because we’re going to get plenty of opportunities to rush the passer. The secondary, linebackers, they’re all going to have to show up and play well. But we need that pass rush to affect the quarterback.”
ETSU leads the SoCon with 12 interceptions. Hodges has thrown a league-high 15, so the opportunities might be there.
Samford plays at such a quick tempo that it averages 80 offensive plays per game. That means the ETSU defense will need to be on its toes to try to stay with the Bulldogs.
“It’s going to be really important for us to make sure we get lined up after each play and be ready for the next play so we’re not scrambling around trying to get in our positions when they snap the ball,” noted Bucs linebacker Austin Gatewood.
Weigel is just the third ETSU player with more than 400 career tackles. The senior has 406 in his career, joining Mario Hankerson (452) and Shannon Depew (425).
IN A RUSH
ETSU redshirt freshman tailback Quay Holmes, who has 750 rushing yards and 14 total TDs this season, was named to the College Football Performance Awards National Performer of the Year Trophy watch list Thursday. He’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 12 rushing touchdowns.
Holmes is also the team’s leading receiver with 30 catches, two of them for scores.
Senior wide receiver Kelvin McKnight is Samford’s all-time leading receiver with 30 receptions and 3,993 yards, both school records. His 32 TD catches are also the most in school history.