For the East Tennessee State University football team, it was like coming from a lap down to take the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Playing its first Southern Conference game since 2003, the Bucs rallied from 18 points down to beat Western Carolina 34-31 Saturday at BMS.
Trailing 21-3 near the end of the first half, the Bucs outscored the Catamounts 31-3 before Western’s Detrez Newsome turned a screen pass upfield for a 45-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game.
“Our team has become a mentally, physically and emotionally tough unit,” Torbush said. “They’ve learned how to deal with success and how to deal with failure. To come back and win our first game in the Southern Conference in 13 years, that says volumes about this football team.”
It’s the first 2-0 start for the Bucs since starting 4-0 in the 1999 season. The game set an ETSU attendance record of 13,863, breaking the previous record of 13,131 set for a 1996 game against Marshall.
“To get that first SoCon win this close to our campus, that made it special,” said linebacker Dylan Weigel, who had a team-high 7 1/2 tackles. “To play in this venue, in front of over 13,000 fans, that was spectacular.”
Leading 27-24 with time running down, quarterback Austin Herink helped clinch the game with a nine-yard pass to Drake Powell to get the ball down to the one-yard line.
Stinson then ran in to the end zone with 1:19 left to put the Bucs up by two scores.
“Drake is a big-time receiver for us,” Herink said. “That’s a play he makes every day. We saw that matchup and we liked it on that particular play. Drake made a heckuva play. You have to have plays like that to win ball games.”
Herink finished with career-highs in completions and yards. He hit 10 different receivers and completed 24 of 37 passes for 269 yards.
Stinson was the team’s leading rusher with 18 carries for 95 yards.
Overall, the Bucs had 205 rushing yards and piled up 474 yards of total offense.
The Bucs only had three points on the scoreboard near the end of the first half before an eight-play, 71-yard drive capped off by a two-yard touchdown pass from Herink to Vincent Lowe.
ETSU scored on the first series of the second half, taking the ball 75 yards downfield in 10 plays. Herink hit freshman receiver Keith Coffee in the end zone on a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Herink later connected with Matt Thompson on a two-yard touchdown pass for ETSU’s first lead. JJ Jerman made his second field goal of the game as the Bucs had reeled off 24 unanswered points for a 27-21 lead.
Western Carolina had 443 yards, most of them coming from quarterback Tyrie Adams, who had 343 passing yards and 32 rushing yards. But the ETSU defense held Newsome, the Southern Conference preseason player of the year, to just 32 rushing yards on 11 carries.
“We kept battling, battling and battling,” Torbush said. “Chris Bouyer, Tremond Ferrell and those (defensive) linemen, they kept pushing their guards and gave them some problems. It’s such a great team win.
“The win at Kennesaw State was great, but this one is even bigger with where it’s at, at Bristol Motor Speedway. What a great game! It couldn’t have been a better day.”