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Bucs, Govs set for battle in the trenches

Jeff Birchfield • Sep 21, 2019 at 10:30 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Strength will meet strength when the East Tennessee State football team lines up against Austin Peay at Greene Stadium on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Austin Peay (2-1), an old rival of ETSU in the Ohio Valley Conference, is coming off a 48-34 win over another Southern Conference school, Mercer. ETSU (1-2) dropped a 31-24 overtime loss to VMI last Saturday in a game halted 2 hours, 25 minutes for weather delays.

The old philosophy of football being won in the trenches will likely come to pass. The Bucs, who rush for nearly 200 yards per game, will be challenged by the Governors’ stingy defense, which gives up just 42.7 yards on the ground.

“We’ve played the run really well,” Austin Peay coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We’ve been solid in our run sets and our kids have played really hard and fast. We will have to continue to do that.

“East Tennessee State is going to the most physical team we’ve played. They’re big up front and they have physical backs. They do a really good job with their personnel groupings. They’re going to make it a challenge to stop them.”

It’s a challenge ETSU’s offensive line of center Ben Blackmon, guards Tavon Matthews and Eddie Gajardo, and tackles Cameron Parker and Tre’mond Shorts take to heart.

The Govs’ defensive line features the agile Matthew Gayle, who played at Fulton, at end. His high school teammate, Kentel Williams, stars on the other side of the ball. Williams is an FCS preseason All-American who has 259 rushing yards on 49 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per rush.

ETSU counters with its own preseason All-American in Quay Holmes, who has similar numbers with 227 rushing yards on 45 carries.

A big concern for the Bucs’ defense will be stopping Govs dual-threat quarterback JaVaughn Craig. He has thrown for 437 yards and ranks second on the team with 106 rushing yards.

“Well, the quarterback is obviously athletic. They do a nice job with their scheme,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “You watch them right now, they’re playing hard. They’re physical on both sides of the ball and they play tough. The quarterback is very dependent on those other 10 guys. So they have 10 other guys that are playing pretty well around him.”

Craig, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior out of Chattanooga, “does a great job of taking care of the ball and he throws the deep ball well. He can really hurt you with his legs and he does a good job extending plays,” Hudspeth said.

Trey Mitchell, a redshirt freshman, has started the Bucs’ past two games. He is 43-of-72 passing for 540 yards and five touchdowns. Chance Thrasher, the starting quarterback who was injured in the Bucs’ season-opening loss at Appalachian State, tweeted Monday that he was ready to get back on the field.

“It’s good to see he’s excited about it. We will see what happens,” Sanders said of Thrasher. “Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to play. It’s being prepared.”

NOTES: Austin Peay nickel back Kordell Jackson returned two interceptions for touchdowns against Mercer. ... ETSU’s Nasir Player, the SoCon’s preseason defensive player of the year, was banged up against VMI but said he’s ready to go. ... The Bucs will dress all in gold with a navy blue helmet, and fans are encouraged to participate in the “gold out.”

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