East Tennessee State’s football team learned a lesson the hard way Saturday.
While ETSU was trying to figure out how to win, an experienced and nationally ranked Furman team was calmly taking care of business. And the Bucs were their own worst enemies during the Paladins’ 17-13 victory.
ETSU was called for 10 penalties for 103 yards. It really was the difference during an otherwise statistically even game in which the Bucs outgained the Paladins and held the ball longer.
“It’s free yards,” ETSU linebacker Jared Folks said. “We’ve got to be more disciplined. We’ve got to be tougher mentally. We’ve got to be able to bounce back when those things, mistakes, happen.”
The Paladins scored all of their points in the third quarter and each of their scoring drives was aided to some extent by ETSU penalties.
Olajuwon Pinkelton was called for roughing the passer on Furman’s first touchdown drive.
Tre’mond Shorts, the leader of the Bucs’ offensive line, knocked down a Furman player well after a play had finished and drew a flag. Those 15 yards forced the Bucs into a third-and-24 situation, forcing them to punt one play later.
Furman scored again on the ensuing possession.
The Paladins got a field goal on their next drive. That was aided by a personal foul call on Will Huzzie, who made a horse-collar tackle while bringing down Darius Kearse, who had intercepted a pass.
“We had some costly penalties in there,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “I did not see a couple of them as it happened. I’m anxious to see them on tape. Some of the penalties were critical.”
One penalty in particular seemed to draw Sanders’ ire. ETSU quarterback Tyler Riddell threw a pass away to avoid the rush and was called for intentional grounding. The ball flew high over the head of his “intended” receiver and out of bounds.
“I’ve never seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers,” Sanders said. “But I’ve learned something. I’d never won a game in February and I’ve done that. Now I’ve seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers. The official said they had no chance to catch it and I’m like ‘Well, no kidding. There’s a reason he’s throwing it away.’ ”
The last two flags didn’t even count against the penalty yardage total because they came with the ball already resting against the Furman goal line. The Bucs had stopped the Paladins cold on two plays from inside the 1-yard line. The last two were quarterback sneaks that didn’t even gain an inch.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Folks said. “We had to make a play. We had to make up for some mistakes we made earlier in the game. And we knew that it was on us to try and give us a chance to win.”
That goal line stance that gave the Bucs a slight chance to win, but facing more than 99 yards with 2:45 on the clock, they could only manage one first down.
Of course, even that drive started with an illegal motion penalty.
“I’m proud of the team,” said Sanders, whose team plays at The Citadel on Saturday. “I’m proud of the way they fought. I’m proud of the way they competed until the end. Just disappointed in losing. It’s no fun. Nobody enjoys losing and hopefully we’ll learn from it, be able to be able to get better for the game next week.”