Furman scored the go-ahead touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter and held off the Bucs for a 17-10 victory in a Southern Conference game Saturday at Paladin Stadium.
“Last year we pulled them out, but sometimes you just run out of time,” ETSU running back Quay Holmes said.
The Bucs fell to 2-3 overall, 0-2 in the SoCon. Furman, ranked 15th nationally, improved to 3-2, 2-0.
“We’ve had opportunities to win two of the three games we let go,”ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “Last year, we found a way to win most of them. This year, we’ve found a way to win one of them.
“I thought our guys played hard.”
ETSU out-gained the Paladins in total yards 290-268, had the ball for seven minutes more and allowed only one third-down conversion until the final seconds.
Still, Furman found a way to win.
“It’s one of the worst feelings you can have as a competitor and an athlete,” ETSU quarterback Trey Mitchell said. “I don’t think anything compares to coming close to winning and not being able to come through.
“In games like this, any mistakes you make down the wire are magnified.”
The Bucs had a chance to tie the game late, trailing by seven and nearing midfield when Mitchell’s pass over the middle was intercepted by Furman’s DiMarcus Clay. ETSU never got the ball back as the Paladins got two first downs and ran out the clock.
“I dropped back, saw one safety looking one way and I thought it was one coverage,” Mitchell said. “I thought we had an easy look to the post and the safety made a great play. He got me. He definitely got me. A good play by him.”
Mitchell completed 18 of 28 passes for 123 yards. Sanders said Mitchell’s inexperience got him in the end.
“Trey’s played well, but on that one play, probably an example of a guy trying to do too much,” Sanders said. “The coverage they gave us, the post was not there. Cardinal rule is you never throw late down the middle. There’s two cardinal rules he violated there. Their guy made a good play but it looked like it was pretty easy too.”
Two plays before Mitchell’s final fateful pass, he lofted a ball over the defense into the waiting hands of Mississippi State transfer Jamal Couch for what could have been a 31-yard gain. Instead, the ball bounced away.
“Hit him in the chest,” Sanders said “Got to catch it. The defender did a nice job, but at the same time, you expect a college receiver to make that play.”
The Paladins opened the scoring on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Darren Grainger to Ryan DeLuca. They added a 28-yard field goal by All-American Grayson Atkins in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
The Bucs weren’t getting much done in the early going until they got a turnover. Jason Maduafokwa recovered a fumble by Corey Wadkins on the Paladins’ 42-yard line and four plays later, Cameron Lewis scored on a 6-yard keeper to cut it to 10-7.
“It was fun especially after being out a week,” Maduafokwa said of his recovery. “It was good to help my team out. I felt like we all needed to make a play at that point.”
The fumble, caused by a hit from Artevius Smith, changed the game, Watkins was averaging more than 11 yards a carry on Saturday and did not return after the play. Watkins still finished as Furman’s leading rusher with 58 yards on five carries.
Holmes, who led the Bucs with 85 yards on 15 rushes, set up the touchdown with a 26-yard run around left end after wiggling his foot out of the grasp of a would-be tackler at the line of scrimmage.
ETSU’s Tyler Keltner kicked a 34-yard field goal in the third quarter to forge a 10-10 tie.
Devin Wynn’s 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter put the Paladins back on top, 17-10.
The Paladins got 40 yards on one play when DeLuca hauled in an underthrown pass.
Grainger completed just 6 of 14 passes for 97 yards.
Cameron Coleman, a red-shirt freshman from Elizabethton, made his first college start at defensive tackle for the Paladins.
“It was different, kind of bittersweet,’ the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Coleman said. “It was kind of a home game away from home. It was really great seeing some of the guys I played against in high school out here loving the game. It was kind of awesome to get my first start, especially against ETSU. It’s kind of crazy. It’s unreal to me still.”
ETSU used three quarterbacks in its first possession. Mitchell started, but Malik McGue and Lewis ran plays in the wildcat formation.
In addition to scoring ETSU’s only touchdown, Lewis was the team’s leading receiver with five receptions for 19 yards.
The Bucs play host to Wofford on Saturday with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Greene Stadium. Furman is at Samford.