ETSU’s season ended late Saturday night with a 34-27 loss to Jacksonville State in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, and Holmes lost a fumble in the final minutes when he was a yard away from what could have been the tying touchdown.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Quay Holmes,” quarterback Austin Herink said. “Quay Holmes is a great player and he’s going to continue to be a great player. It stinks that that happened. He’ll be better for it. I’m sure you guys will like what you see out of Quay next year.”
Holmes was a first-team All-Southern Conference running back as a redshirt freshman. After leading the conference with 15 touchdowns, he is a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, which goes to the top freshman in FCS.
The freshman of the year in the SoCon hadn’t lost a fumble until Saturday night. It came on the 249th and final time he touched the ball this season.
“Quay’s a heck of a ballplayer,” coach Randy Sanders said. “He competed his guts out and fought and battled and tried to make a play to win the game.”
Even after the fumble, the Bucs had a chance to tie. They got the ball back with 1:39 left but managed to gain only 27 yards before turning it over on downs to seal their fate.
“We’ve been in that situation so many times and we’ve had success,” Herink said. “That’s really how we end practice each week. We do a two-minute drill on Thursday and that’s a situation we feel really comfortable in.
We’re frustrated to see it not go our way there. At the end of the day, you have to execute. The team that executes the best wins the game, and we didn’t do our part.”
It was a bitter end to a season that nobody saw coming for the Bucs (8-4), who shared the conference title and made the school’s first playoff appearance in 22 years.
“Losing sucks,” Sanders said. “I appreciated the way the guys competed, appreciated the way they fought.”
The result meant Jacksonville State will be heading to Maine next weekend for the second round while the Bucs will be home. It’s the end of the road for the ETSU seniors who began their careers on a team that had no home field and no business even dreaming they’d be conference champions and finish their careers in the playoffs.
“It’s been an honor to play with these guys, for this coaching staff and for this university,” said senior linebacker Dylan Weigel, who finished third on the ETSU career tackles list with 420.
“We came a long way since I got on campus 4½ years ago. We set a good foundation. There’s a lot to look forward to in the next couple of years. I’m excited to see what the future holds for them.”
The Bucs dropped their last two games of the season, giving up second-half leads in both of them.
“Obviously, that one at the end, at the goal line, gets a lot of attention, but there were a whole lot of plays that were just a little bit off,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately, that was kind of the story of our last two games — just a little bit off.”
ETSU senior wide receiver Kobe Kelley has already undergone surgery for a leg injury that occurred in the fourth quarter. Kelley was carted off the field with his left leg in an air cast.
“Once I got out there and saw him, there was no doubt he was injured,” Sanders said. “You could see that. It was pretty significant, but hopefully he’ll be OK.”
Herink passed for 6,994 yards and 33 touchdowns during his career. He ranks second all-time in program history in completions (615), third in passing yards and total offense (7,435 yards) and fifth in touchdown passes.
Bucs kicker JJ Jerman finished as ETSU’s all-time leader in field goals (53), second in extra points (94) and second in scoring (253 points).