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Bucs fall to Catamounts in overtime

Joe Avento • Nov 10, 2019 at 2:37 AM

CULLOWHEE, N.C. — It was fitting that the Western Carolina band played Aretha Franklin songs before Saturday’s game against East Tennessee State, because the only thing the teams were playing for was R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Only one team got it, though, and once again it wasn’t the Bucs.

ETSU remained winless in the Southern Conference when Western Carolina’s Nate Mullen scored on a 1-yard run in overtime to lift the Catamounts to a 23-20 victory.

The Bucs (2-8, 0-7) lost their sixth consecutive game and the result ensured a first-to-worst season. They shared the SoCon championship last year but will finish this season alone in last place.

Six of ETSU’s seven conference losses have been by seven points or fewer. Two were in overtime.

“I don’t know how many times we’re going to have the same story this year, but I’m getting sick and tired of it,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said.

Western Carolina (3-7, 2-5) won its second straight.

The loss spoiled a career day for ETSU running back Quay Holmes, who ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns. His 36 carries were one shy of the school record.

“It felt good,” Holmes said. “That’s something I feel like I’m built to do. That’s the type of running back I think I am. I’m able to handle that many carries and I felt like our offense runs good when we’re establishing the run.”

With Jacob Saylors out with an injury, Holmes didn’t have to share the ball and the results were outstanding. Holmes’ 5-yard touchdown run with 1:31 left in regulation forged a 17-17 tie.

Western Carolina quickly moved into field- goal range and tried to win the game on the final play, but Julian Pletz missed a 31-yard attempt, putting the teams into overtime.

ETSU didn’t get anything going in the extra period and settled for Tyler Keltner’s 42-yard field goal and a 20-17 advantage. The Catamounts then ran right at the Bucs and capped the 25-yard drive and the victory with Mullen’s run.


Tyler Riddell made his second appearance for the Bucs, coming in to relieve Trey Mitchell. Riddell passed for 59 yards, going 8-for-14, and rushed for 14 yards on five carries.


ETSU tied the game at 10 in the third quarter, but even that came with a challenge. After Holmes’ 4-yard touchdown run, Keltner’s extra point was tipped at the line of scrimmage and wobbled through the uprights.

ETSU’s defense hemmed in Tyrie Adams, Western Carolina’s dynamic quarterback, pretty well until he broke free for a 31-yard run on a called pass play early in the fourth quarter. That gave the Catamounts the ball at the ETSU 41 and they regained the lead at 17-10 when Adams hit Caleb Ferguson on a 22-yard shovel pass for a touchdown with 8:03 left.

Adams had rushed for 28 yards through three quarters and finished with 77. Donnovan Spencer rushed for 124 yards on 19 carries for the Catamounts.


ETSU punter Garrett Taylor dropped a snap in the second quarter, giving the Catamounts good field position and a chance to build on their 3-0 lead.

The Bucs’ defense held, though, and the miscue ended up costing nothing when Pletz, who had earlier connected from 39 yards, missed a field goal.


Riddell came in and appeared to get the Bucs on the board.

First, Riddell got his first collegiate completion, a 44-yarder to Anthony Spagnoletti, who reached back and made an acrobatic catch while being interfered with.

Moments later, Riddell scampered through the Western Carolina defense for what appeared to be an 11-yard touchdown run. The play was brought back after tight end Nate Adkins was called for an illegal block that happened after Riddell had crossed the goal line.

The Bucs settled for a field-goal attempt and got nothing when Keltner missed from 30 yards out. The snap to Mitchell was bad, and he couldn’t get the ball down properly for his kicker.

ETSU survived a fumble by Riddell after the Catamounts couldn’t manage to take advantage late in the first half, leaving the score 10-3 at halftime. Western Carolina had grabbed that lead when Spencer broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

The Bucs’ first points came on a 22-yard field goal by Keltner.

Artevius Smith led the Bucs in tackles again with 11. Blake Bockrath had 10.


JerMichael White, a Johnson City native and former Science Hill player, tied for the Catamounts’ team lead with 11 tackles. One of them came against his former high school teammate, Malik McGue, who gained 5 yards on a keeper in the wildcat formation.


The Bucs host Mercer in their SoCon finale Saturday at 1 p.m. They close out the season at Vanderbilt on Nov. 23.

Western Carolina plays host to Samford before playing at Alabama to end the season.