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Bucs have to put fourth-down heartbreak behind them

Joe Avento • Nov 5, 2019 at 6:30 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Monday is usually the time of the week to look ahead for East Tennessee State football coach Randy Sanders, but he couldn’t help but look back at the way his team lost its latest game.

During his weekly news conference, Sanders was asked how many times he watched the Bucs’ final play in Saturday’s 31-27 loss to The Citadel. Nate Adkins caught a short pass from Trey Mitchell on fourth down and was tackled just short of the goal line, preserving the Bulldogs’ victory and keeping the Bucs winless in the Southern Conference.

It was the final play in a series of four from The Citadel’s 6-yard line in the final two minutes. The first three were incomplete passes.

“I’ve watched every play several times,” Sanders said. “The fourth down play was close. The third down play was close. The second down play was close. The first down play was close. But there were 63 other plays before that.

“You always want to focus on the last one because getting a completion to the 1-foot line, that hurt. But there were a lot of opportunities to make plays. We took advantage of a lot of them. Obviously, the last one stings.”

Sanders said he’s done a lot of second-guessing himself over the final series, but once they got to third down, he was committed to passing on the final two plays.

“I’ve never played a game or coached a game that you didn’t go back and look at what you might have done differently,” he said.

The Bucs (2-7 overall, 0-6 in the SoCon) travel to Cullowhee, North Carolina, on Saturday to take on Western Carolina in their next-to-last conference game. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m.

Western Carolina picked up its first SoCon win of the season last Saturday, beating VMI.


Sanders announced that the team has appointed safety Artevius Smith, defensive end Nasir Player and center Ben Blackmon as permanent captains for the rest of the season.


The Bucs were missing several players against The Citadel, and Sanders was intentionally vague when talking about the injuries. Linebackers Jared Folks and Blake Bockrath didn’t play, and safety Tyree Robinson had to leave the game with an injury.

“Hopefully we’ll get one or two of them back,” Sanders said. “We’ve played nine games, so there’s always going to be nicks and bruises. I can’t get into too many specifics. We’ll probably get a couple of guys back, but we got a couple of new things from the last game.

“The big thing is ‘next man up.’ That was the thing you saw Saturday. We had 11 guys out there fighting on each snap. It was really good to see the team fight. That’s the culture we want to have. It’s challenging when the season has gone how this season has gone to keep playing.”


ETSU’s season-ending game at Vanderbilt will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST on Nov. 23. The time was announced on Monday.

The game will be televised by the SEC Network.