East Tennessee State’s football team overcame a rough start and pulled away from Mars Hill for a 28-7 victory in Sanders’ first game as the Bucs’ head coach Saturday night at Greene Stadium.
The Bucs were plagued by turnovers, dropped passes and missed field goals in the first half before settling down. With the much anticipated matchup with Tennessee coming up next, they eventually put away their NCAA Division II opponent.
“We threw it and caught it a little better in the second half,” Sanders said. “The offense started going and finishing some drives.”
ETSU quarterback Logan Marchi, making his first start after transferring from Temple, threw three touchdown passes.
A NIGHT OF FIRSTS
Kobe Kelley, Quan Harrison, Quay Holmes and Evan Wick all scored their first touchdowns for the Bucs.
ETSU didn’t lead until the final minute of the third quarter when Harrison broke behind the defense and Marchi laid it in perfectly for a 30-yard touchdown that put the Bucs up 14-7.
The key play in the 89-yard drive was a 22-yard run by freshman Jacob Salyors on second-and-20. Salyors, who was working in the defensive secondary three weeks ago, had 42 yards on the drive.
Harrison’s touchdown came after he turned the ball over twice in the first half, a fumble inside the Mars Hill 5-yard line and a muffed punt. His score gave the Bucs a 14-7 lead, their first advantage of the game.
The Bucs began to take control when Mars Hill punter Michael Johnson dropped a snap and was drilled by Zack Yancey, setting up ETSU with the ball on the 10-yard line.
One play later, Holmes ran it in for a touchdown and a 21-7 ETSU lead.
MARS HILL SCORES FIRST
The Lions took a 7-0 lead with 5:57 left in the first quarter when shifty receiver Craig Rucker caught a pass from Austin Brown and fought his way into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
If dropped passes are contagious, there was an epidemic going through the Bucs’ receiving corps in the first half.
Marchi was 10 for 19 at halftime, but he easily could have been 15 for 19. Each time a receiver dropped a catchable ball, the groans from the crowd grew louder.
Finally, Harrison hauled in a long pass from Marchi and completed a 55-yard gain. That set up Marchi’s first touchdown pass as a Buc, a 15-yarder to Kelley.
It was also the first career touchdown for Kelley, who had previously scored on a two-point conversion.
JJ Jerman, ETSU’s all-conference kicker, missed two field goal tries in the first half. Jerman, who went 14 for 18 last season, missed from 44 and 37 yards out.
Facing a chance for a field goal to break a 7-7 tie in the third quarter, Sanders chose to go for it on fourth-and-two instead.
The fourth-down play was doomed from the start as a low shotgun snap disrupted the rhythm of the play and Marchi threw an incomplete pass while on the run.
BY THE NUMBERS
With two first-year running backs leading the way, ETSU rushed for 238 yards as a team.
Holmes, a red-shirt freshman, gained 118 on 17 carries. Salyors, a true freshman, had 70 yards on nine attempts.
Marchi completed 17 of 229 passes for 273 yards.
On defense, Nasir Player had two of ETSU’s five sacks. Jeremy Lewis and Dylan Weigel each had two tackles to lead the Bucs.
Rucker finished with 10 receptions for 136 yards for Mars Hill.
The crowd of 8,518 was officially a sellout. ETSU has sold out four of the seven games played at Greene Stadium.