Bucs to savor season-opening victory

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Sep 4, 2016 at 10:48 PM

KENNESAW, Ga. — One major theme in East Tennessee State University football coach Carl Torbush’s postgame speech to his players was to savor the victory, they earned it.

Indeed they did in a thrilling 20-17, double-overtime win at Kennesaw State.

Besides the emotion of such a dramatic win, it was satisfying for Torbush to see the game plan laid out by he and his assistants come together.

In the two weeks of practice leading up to the game, the Bucs’ offensive coaches had worked on a number of short passes and quick-hitting runs to attack the Kennesaw defense. The defensive coaches emphasized being in the right positions against the Owls spread-option offense.

And the special teams units, worked on blocking schemes to allow kicker JJ Jerman and punter Marion Watson to get off their kicks on time.

“It really was a total team effort,” Torbush said. “All three phases, they did well. Offensively, we had no turnovers. Our kicking game was great, and defensively, we couldn’t have played what they do any better.”

On the offensive end, ETSU quarterback Austin Herink was efficient, completing 18 of 26 passes. But, he also came up with the big plays when needed.

Facing a third-and-18 in the second overtime, Herink delivered a pass to Hank Black 20 yards downfield for a first down. It set up a game-winning, 24-yard field goal by Jerman.

In addition, Herink had completions of 20 and 34 yards to Dalton Ponchillia to set up the Bucs’ other touchdowns on 1-yard runs.

“It was just a complete game,” said Herink, who finished with 214 passing yards. “We ended last year on a high note and we wanted to continue to get better during the offseason and to build on that. We still have 10 games in front of us, but we really poured our hearts and souls into this game.”

Herink was helped by an effective running game. Behind an offensive line, which is bigger and stronger than a year ago, Jajuan Stinson had 23 rushes for 91 yards.

On the other side of the ball, it was obvious the Bucs had prepared well for Kennesaw’s offense.

Defensive end Nasir Player consistently disrupted the Owls’ flow and ended with eight tackles and a sack. Dylan Weigel, the linebacker who is like another coach on the field, tied Ryan Powers with a game-high 11 tackles.

As a unit, the biggest moments came in the first quarter when the Bucs made back-to-back goal-line stands on third and fourth downs.

Overall, defensive coordinator Billy Taylor’s squad limited the Owls to just 10 points through four quarters of football. And, it took an athletic catch by Kennesaw receiver Justin Sumpter on a fourth-and-goal from the 22, just to extend the game into a second overtime.

“Defensively, we couldn’t have played what they do any better,” Torbush said. “There weren’t any big running plays. The biggest runs they had were eight or nine yards.”

There was also the kicking game and the Bucs were effective in pinning the Owls back deep in their territory. Torbush pointed out that Watson allowed ETSU to down the football inside the Owls’ 10-yard line on three different occasions.

The Bucs also provided a definitive answer to the frequently asked question of whether they would be better than last season.

It was a resounding yes after beating a good Kennesaw State team on the road. It came just one year after the Owls had beaten the Bucs by 40 in Johnson City.

“It was a great win for our program, a great win for ETSU,” Torbush said. “To come into this hostile environment and there were a lot of things that went on, it says a lot to where we’re headed as a program. We’ve just got to keep driving. It’s just one step out of 11, but with an open week next week, I want these kids to enjoy it. They deserved it.”

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