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Bucs’ season at crossroads after another close SoCon loss

Joe Avento • Sep 30, 2019 at 1:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Still chasing its first Southern Conference victory, the East Tennessee State football team has hit a crucial part of the season.

After their second close SoCon loss in as many games — a 17-10 defeat by Furman — the Bucs are in danger of falling too far behind to defend the share of the league championship they won last year.

It’s time to pick up the pace, and coach Randy Sanders knows it.

“If you have the right type of people and the right type of character, then you want to improve,” Sanders said. “Obviously you want results. I tell them all the time, there’s a reason we keep score because the scores matter.

“The challenge is just to get better. How much better can the team be? If you can stand there in the locker room and have no regrets, then that’s the challenge. Right now, we’ve got to get back to work. We still have a lot to play for.”

Wofford (2-2, 1-1) visits Greene Stadium on Saturday after putting up 51 points against a VMI team that defeated the Bucs.

“There’s a lot of guys playing good enough to win,” Sanders said. “Kicking game’s improved. Defense played hard. They’re playing aggressively. A lot of guys on offense are playing well. Until you get 11 of them doing it every snap, it’s hard to execute.”

The Bucs (2-3, 0-2) had a chance to make a statement against 15th-ranked Furman but couldn’t come up with enough plays to get over the hump.

When Furman pulled ahead 10-0 in the second quarter of Saturday’s game and got the ball back, it appeared as though a Paladins romp was about to ensue. However, after Artevius Smith caused a fumble and Jason Maduafokwa recovered, ETSU seemed like a different team. Suddenly, the Bucs began to move the ball, mostly on the ground.

They wound up with 167 rushing yards, averaging nearly 5 yards a carry.

“Coach Sanders is going to feed the running game,” Quay Holmes said after getting 85 yards on 15 tries. “Once he sees me or Jacob (Saylors) getting chunks of yards, he won’t hesitate to keep giving it to us.”

Furman nearly beat a pair of FBS teams in Georgia State and Virginia Tech, so the Bucs knew they had their hands full heading in as 14½-point underdogs. They didn’t pick up a win, but they proved they can play with the upper echelon teams in the SoCon.

The way their defense plays at times, just a little more offense and they could regain their stature of last year, but not if the close losses continue to mount.

“There’s still a lot of football to play,” Sanders said. “We’ll find out about our leadership and a lot about our pride.”

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