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Mitchell solidifies hold on Bucs’ QB job

Joe Avento • Updated Sep 9, 2019 at 11:30 AM

The ever-evolving quarterback saga on the East Tennessee State football team has begun to solidify itself.

Trey Mitchell, who came within one completion of a school record Saturday night, has grabbed the starting spot and looks like he’ll be running with it. As long as he can run, that is.

Mitchell was as efficient as he could be in his first collegiate start, completing his first 14 passes before throwing an interception on his 15th. In a remarkable performance, none of his passes hit the ground.

“I would assume right now if Trey’s healthy, Trey will start,” Bucs coach Randy Sanders said after his team’s 48-10 win over Shorter. “I thought Trey played well. I thought when he got in there last week he played very well. There’s no reason not to think Trey will be the guy.”

Mitchell briefly left Saturday’s game with an apparent knee injury, but he quickly came back in wearing a knee brace.

“I’m fine. I’ll be OK,” Mitchell said after watching the later part of the game while riding an exercise bike on the sideline.

Sanders said Mitchell looked better before the incident, but they blamed it on the bulky brace.

“At this point I’m assuming he’s OK,” Sanders said. “Trainer said he was OK. Trey said he felt he was OK. They put that big ol’ brace on him and he was limping around. I said ‘Are you all sure he’s OK?’

“Trey was like ‘It’s just a brace. It won’t flex.’ So we have to get him a new brace.”

Mitchell, who threw 52 touchdown passes while playing at Knox Central, seems to have made a connection with tight end Nate Adkins. The two Knoxville natives have combined for two touchdowns in two games.

“Trey plays hard,” said Adkins, who played at Bearden. “He goes in there and does the job. He went down and didn’t want to come out. He put a brace on and came back in. He s a tough player.

“He really likes throwing to the tight ends and I love that.”

Mitchell had a shot at school history Saturday. Austin Herink holds the ETSU record for consecutive completions — 15 — and Mitchell needed one more to tie. He dropped back and tried a high-risk long pass. The throw was a little short and was intercepted.

Sanders, a former quarterback himself, said he had a feeling Mitchell was closing in on a record because he knew there hadn’t been any incompletions.

“At some point I actually thought about that, but I didn’t know what the record was,” Sanders said. “If you get a record, great. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s not what I was worried about. But the thought did cross my mind that he has to be somewhere close.”

A month ago, Mitchell was probably the third-string quarterback as the team’s hopes seemed to be riding on transfers Cade Weldon and Chance Thrasher. First Weldon, the transfer from Miami, was injured. He was at Saturday’s game with his arm in a sling and will likely miss the season.

Thrasher, who came in as a grad transfer from Coastal Carolina, earned the starting job coming out of camp but was hurt in the loss at Appalachian State.

Now it’s Mitchell’s job to lose.

“I thought he did very well,” Sanders said after the Shorter game. “He seemed to be seeing things well. He seemed to be throwing the ball accurately. I thought he did a pretty nice job of executing what we asked. He ran the offense very well.”

After starring against an NCAA Division II team riding what is now a 40-game losing streak, Mitchell’s next game will be his first in the Southern Conference when VMI pays a visit to Greene Stadium on Saturday.

“We played one team where we kind of stepped up and we played one team that was stepping up to play us,” Sanders said. “Now we’re ready to play our peers the rest of the way. We have to be ready to go.”

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