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ETSU fans suffer outcome, but enjoy moment

Douglas Fritz • Sep 8, 2018 at 9:23 PM

KNOXVILLE — Refusing to let the perceived underdog role diminish their enthusiasm, many East Tennessee State University fans didn’t allow reality to scar the lifetime moments inside one of college football’s biggest stadiums.

Yes, perhaps Tennessee needed a lightning delay to recharge its batteries. But once the Volunteers started clicking, ETSU was left in the wake of a 59-3 decision Saturday in the teams’ first-ever meeting on the football field.

Ted Pate, seated in section A along with a hearty group of Buccaneers’ supporters, didn’t mince words when asked if he thought he would see the Blue and Gold actually take the field against mighty Tennessee.

“Never,” said Pate. “Never ever. This is definitely a unique experience. This is the first time for me in Neyland Stadium. It may be my last, but because it is ETSU, I’m here.”

Pate was joined by his wife, Margaret, who said the experience was something enjoyable.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I’m glad to see this day.”

ETSU professor Chig Gunter was among the Bucs’ faithful who rode the chartered bus to Knoxville for the contest. He said he envisioned the Bucs one day getting a shot at UT after they reinstated the football program.

“I thought perhaps they might have an opportunity to play because UT had been playing most of the state schools,” said Gunter.

It certainly was another step forward by ETSU, and perhaps the icing on the cake to legitimizing the return of the sport. But Gunter put things in perspective when talking about what he thought an ETSU upset would mean.

“This game is important, but I would rather win the conference games,” said Gunter, prior to kickoff.

Also enjoying the game-day experience was ETSU fan Matt Becker, who has a connection to the program as the dad of assistant coach Ryan Becker.

“We live in Nashville, but this is our first game in Neyland,” said Matt Becker. “We’re excited about it and happy to have this experience. My son used to be at Florida State, so we are used to this experience.”’

It was a unique and challenging experience for UT fan Stephen Pate. He is a graduate student at UT while his wife is a graduate student at ETSU. They rode the ETSU bus together and sat in the Bucs’ section.

“I had to ride the bus down here, and I was forced to wear a blue rain jacket until such time as I could take it off and expose my jersey underneath, and show my true fandom,” said Stephen Pate.

If ETSU had pulled off the upset, Stephen’s wife, K.J., said her husband would have faced a tough road home.

“It would be depressing,” she said with a good-natured smile.

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