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ETSU Moves to Quarters with Late Rally

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The Buccaneers simply continue to be at their best in the deciding moments of big games.

East Tennessee State just keeps making plays when it matters most. The Buccaneers simply continue to be at their best in the deciding moments of big games. After going 5-1 during the regular season in one score games, East Tennessee State somehow scored two touchdowns, with a game-winning two-point conversion, in 53 seconds in an all-time finish in a triumph over Kennesaw State in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. In a game where they were down 14 with less than two minutes remaining, the Buccaneers, again, found a way. 

Playing with a focus all of the way to the finish, East Tennessee State, mere moments after many assumed the season was over, is onto the national quarterfinals.

History, for the Buccaneers, began late in the afternoon at their own 22-yard line.

Taking over there, down two touchdowns with just 5:02 to play, quarterback Tyler Riddell led East Tennessee State on a 13-play scoring drive in 3:31, reaching the endzone on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 remaining. Tyler Keltner then delivered a perfect onsides kick, recovered by Tim Stayskal, in a now-famed sequence. East Tennessee State, with Riddell to Nate Adkins for two consecutive long gains, then moved right down the field. Three plays later, Riddell found running back Quay Holmes on dramatic a 4-yard touchdown throw.

The Buccaneers were stunningly and suddenly down just one, with mere seconds on the clock. Playing with the confidence and conviction of a champion, there was never any doubt what East Tennessee State would do next. As soon as Holmes scored, in fact, he and other teammates immediately held two fingers in the air. Even in the face of a heavy rush, Riddell stayed calm and composed and promptly found Adkins across the back of the goaline for the go-ahead, game-winning score.

There was obviously a celebration in the moment, but also an expectation as well. A team, in the Buccaneers, that had already won nine games this calendar year by seven points or less, both knew what had to be done and believed they could do it. Go ahead and make it ten.

In a season that includes a Southern Conference championship and a 20-point victory over an SEC opponent, the Buccaneers have now set a new school record with eleven total wins -- and counting. Randy Sanders and East Tennessee State aren't only making plays, this is a group making history. Traditions are taking shape and they are very-much ring-like. Reinstated back in 2015, each new memory for the program is now coming with a mark in the media guide.    

After one the most dramatic wins of the entire college football season, up next for the Buccaneers is their second-ever appearance in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs, the only other trip coming in 1996. East Tennessee State will now play superpower North Dakota State, a program that has won 16 national titles, including eight FCS championships since 2011. The Buccaneers will be on the big stage; it's a spotlight East Tennessee State has earned.

Regardless of the odds, all East Tennessee State makes the most of every opportunity. Saturday was the latest example.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports