Johnson City Press: Playoff bid has Bucs ready to go

Playoff bid has Bucs ready to go

Joe Avento • Updated Nov 18, 2018 at 9:23 PM

There was no sense of “mission accomplished” surrounding the East Tennessee State football team Sunday night.

Hours after the Bucs learned they would be in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time since 1996, they were happy their magical season was still going, saying they still have some unfinished business.

ETSU will play at Jacksonville State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Both teams are 8-3.

“Every team has a one-year life expectancy and when the season’s over, that team is done,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said after putting his team through a light practice. “And we get to keep this team alive one more week.”

ETSU, ranked 22nd nationally, won a share of the Southern Conference championship. No. 7-ranked Jacksonville State, located in Jacksonville, Alabama, won the Ohio Valley Conference title for the fifth year in a row. This is the sixth consecutive playoff appearance for the Gamecocks, the national runners-up in 2015.

“This isn’t a new experience for them,” Sanders said. “They’re kind of used to going to the playoffs.”

In ETSU’s only previous playoff appearance, the Bucs beat Villanova before losing to Montana.

Sunday’s selection show was on ESPNU, and the reality of the situation hit when ETSU’s name popped up on the bracket.

“It was really exciting,” Bucs quarterback Austin Herink said. “I guess I was more excited than I thought I would be.”

Each team enters the playoffs coming off a loss. ETSU fell 38-27 to Samford on Saturday. Jacksonville State lost 60-52 to Kennesaw State in a game that went to five overtimes.

The Gamecocks average almost 42 points per game and wide receiver Josh Pearson leads the country with 17 touchdown catches. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper, a sophomore who saw action in seven games as Clemson’s backup last season, is fifth in the nation with 27 touchdown passes.

Despite all that throwing, the Gamecocks also have 28 touchdowns on the ground in a balanced attack.

“I think it’s a good draw,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. “I’m excited about our home game in the first round. The playoffs are a new season. We’ve got new life. I think this team is really excited about playing and I’m excited about getting them ready.

“I know Coach Sanders has done a great job with their program. They won that conference and that is big-time.”

The winner plays at Maine on Dec. 1. The seventh-seeded Black Bears earned one of the top eight spots in the national field and a first-round bye.

There are 125 FCS teams and 24 of them made the playoffs.

ETSU and Jacksonville State have met twice on the football field. The Bucs won 20-14 in 1960 and the Gamecocks won 13-0 in 1959.

The Bucs received the Southern Conference championship trophy on Sunday after sharing the title with Wofford and Furman.

“That’s pretty special,” Sanders said “That means something. Obviously we would have like to have gotten the only one, but just to get that trophy with our name on it is special.”

Playoff tickets can be purchased through the Jacksonville State ticket office via or by calling 256-782-8499. Tickets purchased online before game day will be $15, and all tickets purchased in the ticket office or on game day will be $20.

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