The Bucs came into their match-up hosting Samford looking to win the SoCon championship outright. A loss would put them in a position of possibly sharing the conference championship with a three-way tie. Samford proved too much for the Bucs 38-27; however, ETSU earned at at-large bid Sunday to the FCS playoffs. The Bucs play at Jacksonville State Saturday, Nov. 24, at 7:30 p.m.
“I didn’t sleep a whole lot last night, but we’re absolutely ecstatic to be in the playoffs and have a chance,” said ETSU head coach Randy Sanders on ESPNU Sunday. “It’s validation for a lot of guys that came here on a dream.”
The contest will be the Bucs’ first playoff game since 1996.
The Bucs had a chance to win the conference crown outright, but Samford and senior quarterback Devlin Hodges spoiled the party.
“This team has played hard really from the first game,” said Sanders. “We have worked to play harder; I expect them to play like their hair is on fire.”
However, to do that would mean to stop Hodges, who came into the game looking to break Steve McNair’s FCS all-time passing record. Hodges did just that, finishing his career with 14,584 passing yards. McNair had 14,496 at Alcorn State. Hodges torched the Bucs for 404 yards on 40 of 53 passing.
The Bucs scored first in the game as JJ Jerman (Seymour, Tennessee) connected on a 47-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead over Samford.
Not long after that score, the Bucs followed up with a Quay Holmes (Powder Springs, Georgia) six-yard touchdown to take an early 10-0 lead following the extra point.
Samford scored their first points of the first quarter with a three-yard touchdown run to bring the Bucs’ lead to three. This season Samford has outscored opponents 130 to 50, so the Bucs defense did very well in the first quarter to let the Bucs lead 10-7.
Samford took the lead early in the second quarter as Hodges was able to run three-yards for the touchdown score giving Samford a 14-10 lead over the Bucs. With less than 7 minutes left in the first half, Austin Herink (Cleveland, Tennessee) gave the Bucs the lead back, scrambling for an 11-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 17-14.
Less than two minutes remaining in the half, Herink ran for a one-yard score to give the Bucs good momentum before the half leading 24-14. However, Samford kicked a field goal to end the half, trailing the Bucs 24-17.
“I told them at halftime we have the opportunity to control our fate,” said Sanders.
Offensively in the third quarter, the Bucs had a hard time moving the ball down the field resulting in the defense being on the field majority of the quarter.
Hodges rushed for a two-yard touchdown run with five minutes remaining in the third quarter tying the game 24. The Bucs were able to retake the lead with under two minutes to play in the third quarter giving the Bucs a 27-24 lead. Through three-quarters, Hodges had thrown for over 300 yards.
“It’s frustrating,” said Herink. “We worked all year to put ourselves in position to control our own destiny. I felt we fight really hard we just have to execute better.”
In the fourth quarter the Bucs’ offense just could not make plays when they needed to.
As a result, the defense was on the field for Samford’s two scoring touchdown drives in the quarter. Combined, both scores took over 8 minutes of possession time, leaving the Bucs little time in the end to have a chance at coming back.
The Bucs lost 38-27, finishing the season 8-3 in the regular season and 6-2 in conference play.