They did it again Saturday, giving up a late touchdown after one of their defensive leaders was ejected and falling 24-17 to Samford in a Southern Conference game at rainy Seibert Stadium.
ETSU (2-6 overall) is 0-5 in the SoCon, and four of those league losses were by a touchdown or less.
“It’s kind of frustrating but we have to keep working,” ETSU offensive lineman Tre’Mond Shorts said. “We have to keep fighting. We have a good team here. We’re so close every week.”
The Bucs committed three turnovers and a couple of the six penalties called against them turned out to be crucial. Samford (4-4, 3-2) was not penalized all day.
“We have some guys who play hard,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “They compete, they battle, they fight. We have some others who looked pretty content to be 2-5. I’m not really happy with some of them.”
Nasir Player, the SoCon’s preseason defensive player of the year, was ejected for targeting after a hit on Samford quarterback Chris Oladokun with the score tied at 17 and six minutes left in the game. After the play was reviewed and confirmed, Samford had a first down on the Bucs’ 6-yard line instead of being forced to try a go-ahead field goal.
ETSU’s Blake Bockrath was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the ball to the 3. Two plays later, Jocquet Jiles scored on a 1-yard run for a 24-17 lead.
“I don’t think Nasir had any ill intent or anything else,” Sanders said. “Nasir plays hard. The way it happened, I can see how he would get there just a little bit late. By letter of the rule, it was targeting.”
The Bucs got the ball back two more times needing a touchdown to tie the game but couldn’t get it done. After they moved near midfield in the closing minute, quarterback Trey Mitchell fumbled a shotgun snap and kicked the ball forward, allowing Samford to recover and run out the clock.
TYING FIELD GOAL
Samford was ahead 17-14 and the Bucs were on the verge of a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter when they reached the Samford 1. Quay Holmes lost 3 yards on second down and Mitchell was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down.
That set Up Tyler Keltner for a game-tying 30-yard field goal, and he split the uprights to forge a 17-17 tie.
Michael Vice had put the Bulldogs on top 17-14 with a 3-yard touchdown catch of an Oladokun pass with 2:41 left in the third quarter. Jay Stanton had Samford’s other touchdown, a 2-yard run in the first quarter.
BIG PLAY QUAY
With just over three minutes left in the first half, Holmes had the most spectacular run of his career. He dashed around right end and found a lot of running room. By the time the Bulldogs caught up with him, he was 24 yards downfield.
Somehow, Holmes broke free from several would-be tacklers at the 20-yard line and took off down the sideline again. He was ruled — after a replay review — to have stepped out of bounds at the 3 for a 41-yard gain.
Two plays later, Mitchell plowed into the end zone on a 1-yard sneak and the Bucs were ahead 14-7. Holmes went on to finish with 95 yards on 15 carries.
The Bucs’ first touchdown came on a 1-yard pass from Mitchell to fullback Jawan Martin in the second quarter. It capped an 80-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 44-yard halfback pass play from Malik McGue to Braxton Richburg.
Colton Lakes led ETSU with 11 tackles. Artevius Smith and Zack Yancey had 10 apiece. Smith also had his fourth interception of the season.
ETSU held Samford, the SoCon’s second-ranked passing offense, to 134 yards through the air.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Anthony Spagnoletti appeared to score a touchdown on an end around in the first quarter, but when he raced up the right sideline untouched and into the end zone on a 68-yard play, he circled back and, much to his dismay, saw a penalty flag on the field.
The Bucs were called for holding, wiping out the big play.
Keltner clanged a 46-yard field goal try off the right upright in the first quarter. It was just the second miss of the season for the ETSU freshman, who had made 8 of 9 field-goal attempts to that point.
Samford’s Mitchell Fineran kicked a 42-yarder early in the third quarter, cutting the Bucs’ lead to 14-10. Moments later, he missed from 25 yards out.
NEW QB — BRIEFLY
Tyler Riddell, a freshman quarterback, saw the first action of his collegiate career in relief of Mitchell.
Riddell played one series late in the first quarter, a Bucs three-and-out. He didn’t complete either of his two passes.
ETSU still plans to redshirt Riddell. Under the new rule instituted last season, players can appear in up to four games in a redshirt season and not burn a year of eligibility.
A few other true freshmen made their college debuts, including offensive lineman Fred Norman Jr. and tight end Jaylen Frierson.
Homecoming is next Saturday and The Citadel will be in town for a 3:30 kickoff.