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Bucs, still winless in SoCon, need to ‘cowboy up’

Joe Avento • Oct 25, 2019 at 10:30 PM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Still searching for his first Southern Conference win of the season, East Tennessee State football coach Randy Sanders doesn’t see any relief on the horizon.

“Our schedule doesn’t get any easier,” Sanders said. “We’ve got to cowboy up and go play ball.”

A year after winning a handful of close games and a share of the SoCon championship, the Bucs (2-5, 0-4) have been snakebitten this season. Three of their conference losses came by a touchdown or less.

“There’s no question that we had opportunities in most of the games we’ve played in,” Sanders said.

The Bucs’ fifth chance at their first SoCon victory comes Saturday at 1 p.m. when they take on Samford (3-4, 2-2) at Seibert Stadium. The Bulldogs lead the overall series 5-1, including a 38-27 victory in Johnson City last year that cost ETSU sole possession of the SoCon title.

Samford is second in the league in passing, averaging 284 yards per game. The Bucs are tops in pass defense, giving up 164.


ETSU freshman kicker Tyler Keltner is having a superb season. The newcomer has made 8 of 9 field-goal attempts and drilled all 15 of his extra-point tries.

He’s certainly settled a position that was a big question mark after the graduation of record-setting kicker JJ Jerman.


Will Huzzie’s spectacular one-handed touchdown catch against Chattanooga made ESPN’s top plays last Thursday night. Sanders said the team needs to make more plays like that and seemed to indicate he might open up the offense a bit this week.

“There’s no question that calling plays with this team is challenging at times,” Sanders said. “Will made the great catch the other night, but when was the last one? You know, when was the last time something really just happened out of the ordinary that shouldn’t happen?

“We’ve got to try to develop that and I’m trying to create that, but I told some of our coaches yesterday that we’re going to have to start digging deep in the playbook, looking for trick plays, special plays and everything else to expand a little more.”

Sanders said he was hopeful ETSU will get injured receivers Braxton Richburg and Isaiah Wilson back this week.


Samford leads the SoCon in scoring at 38.9 points per game and has had 15 scoring drives of two minutes or less. In four-plus seasons under coach Chris Hatcher, the Bulldogs have had 109 scoring drives of two minutes or shorter and 49 that have lasted one minute or less.


Junior quarterback Chris Oladokun — who transferred in from South Florida, where he started two games last season — runs the show for Samford.

Oladokun leads the SoCon in touchdown passes with 15, has thrown for 1,585 yards and has been intercepted five times. He’s also the team’s second-leading rusher with 350 yards and six touchdowns.

Oladokun was the SoCon’s offensive player of the week three times in September.

Middle linebacker John Staton is the team’s defensive leader. He ranks fourth in FCS in tackles per game (11.7) and total tackles (82).

No team in the conference allows more than Samford’s 42.9 points per game.


In a poll on Samford’s website, fans were asked to vote on which game they were looking forward to the most. They’re apparently not too interested in Saturday’s game.

ETSU game received 2% of the vote. Auburn was first with 54%. The others on the list: Youngstown State (15%), The Citadel (11%), Furman (11%) and Chattanooga (7%).