Last year, ETSU overcame a sloppy game to hold on for a 27-24 victory over the Keydets. It set the stage for the Bucs to go on to share the conference championship and taught them how to win a close game. That was something they took to heart for the rest of the season.
By the end of the year, ETSU was 6-2 in the SoCon and none of the wins was by more than three points.
“I think VMI was our first conference game last year that set the tone for what we needed to improve on,” Bucs offensive lineman Cameron Parker said. “I think this year it’s going to be the same thing. These guys are going to come in here expecting to win. They’re going to come in here ready to fight and expecting to win, so we have to be ready.”
The game is set to kick off at 7:35 p.m. Both teams are 1-1.
Quarterback Trey Mitchell is making his second start for ETSU after looking comfortable and confident last week in a 48-10 victory over Division II Shorter.
Mitchell has completed 76.5% of his passes since relieving the injured Chance Thrasher against Appalachian State. That’s tied for first in the conference with Samford’s Chris Oladokun.
There was some question about Mitchell’s knee after he left the field against Shorter wearing a knee brace, but he practiced this week and was listed as No. 1 on the depth chart. Cameron Lewis is expected to see some time at wide receiver in addition to handling the backup quarterback duties.
An interesting fact: None of ETSU’s four touchdown passes have been caught by a wide receiver. Tight ends have three and a fullback has the other.
THE PLACE TO BE
Another big crowd is expected Saturday. Last week, 8,615 people were on hand to see the Bucs beat Shorter, the fourth-largest crowd in Greene Stadium history as well as the ninth sellout in 13 games played at the stadium.
As of Friday, ETSU had sold the final 75 tickets it had on hand and was in the process of selling tickets for the grass hill and the 200 tickets VMI turned back in.
Reece Udinski, VMI’s quarterback has thrown for 456 yards and five touchdowns in his first two games. The Bucs had five interceptions and eight sacks last year against Udinski and the players in ETSU’s secondary are excited for this week’s challenge.
“I would hope they’re excited about it,” Bucs coach Randy Sanders said. “If you’re a secondary guy, it’s got to be more fun playing against a passing team than a running team. Just like if you’re a quarterback, it’s a whole lot more fun to throw it than it is hand it off.”
Without those interceptions and sacks, last year’s game would have probably turned out differently. The Bucs led the SoCon last year with 15 picks but have none this season. They’ve gotten one turnover: a fumble after a sack against Shorter.
“That’s one thing we need to do a better job of defensively is creating turnovers,” Sanders said. “I think our defense is playing hard. They’re doing a good job, but part of their responsibility is to get the ball back.”