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‘Bucs Back in a Big Way

By BJ Bennett
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There is a very real energy around East Tennessee State football.

This was a great win for ETSU, the athletic department and the community. I am really glad to be part of this program.
~Carl Torbush

East Tennessee State dropped football in 2003, winning its final contest in thrilling fashion, a poignant 16-13 triumph over The Citadel. After a transition year as an independent, the Buccaneers, with a new stadium currently being built, are back in the Southern Conference. Their return has been a stirring one. East Tennessee State is 2-0, fresh off a pair of three-point victories, including a 34-31 win over Western Carolina at Bristol Motor Speedway. Currently, the Buccaneers, Bulldogs and Chattanooga, the latter two making the FCS playoffs a season ago, are the only teams with winning league records.

With a flair for the dramatic, this team, like the program, has proven resilient. After an overtime road victory over Kennesaw State in week one, East Tennessee State found itself down early against the Catamounts. Trailing 21-3 in the second quarter, the Buccaneers, in Bristol, turned potential disaster into productive drafting, rallying to their first conference victory in nearly 13 years. Behind quarterback Austin Herink, East Tennessee State scored 24 unanswered points, ultimately building a ten point-lead late against an opponent that finished third in league play in 2015.

"We had a great crowd and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will be a game people will remember for a lifetime and the outcome made it even more special," explained ETSU head coach Carl Torbush."

A team still learning in year-one of reaffiliated membership displayed tremendous maturity with an early deficit in a unique setting. In the program's most-high profile game since returning to the gridiron, the Buccaneers were 13-of-19 on third downs, turned the football over just once and maintained possession for nearly 38 minutes. When a Western Carolina field goal narrowed the home lead to just three points midway through the final period, East Tennessee State responded with a signature 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a Jajuan Stinson touchdown plunge.

On their biggest stage in well-over-a-decade, the Buccaneers played with passion, pride and, perhaps most impressively, poise.    

"We were able to get a win over an outstanding football team," Torbush continued. "The game featured a lot of highs and lows. I appreciate how our team fought and came back from the adversity it faced early on. We didn’t get too high or too low."

Positive traction firmly in place, East Tennessee State prepares to face Wofford in a showdown that will help shape the Southern Conference standings. The Terriers are 2-1, their lone loss coming at Ole Miss. They have won four of six dating back to last fall, the defeat to the Rebels included. Saturday stands as another litmus test for an East Tennessee State program now back on the field and suddenly back in the spotlight.

"We are getting ready to play another good football team this weekend. They remind me of playing Army, Navy, Air Force, Georgia Tech – as they are very sound in what they do – and they do it very well," Torbush nodded. "If we don’t take care of our job, they will make us pay."

With September success have come both expectations and opportunities. Looking ahead, a victory over Wofford would setup a monumental clash with the 3rd-ranked Mocs in Johnson City, the Buccaneers' first true home game of this fall. The focus, however, is on the task at hand. East Tennessee State, as a complete team, will have to progress and improve to stay at the top of the league table. Quite deliberately, coaches and players alike are growing in unison with the program they represent.

A palpable excitement and momentum, all with a true appreciation and respect for the moment, has started to converge.

"I didn’t know what to expect coming into this season. I’m glad I am here and it feels good to be 2-0," detailed offensive lineman Alex Rios. "We can’t get complacent and need to continue to work hard and put in the effort. I am excited for the challenge this week."

In Bristol, East Tennessee State followed up one of college football's best showcases the week prior with a statement victory of its own.   

"This was a great win for ETSU, the athletic department and the community. I am really glad to be part of this program," Torbush added. 

As the rebuilding of the school's football infrastructure is still ongoing, the Buccaneers latest performance came in front of a record 13,863 fans. There is a very real energy around East Tennessee State. Albeit in a limited sample size, that effort has come with notable legitimacy; both of the Buccaneers' victories came versus foes receiving votes in the national rankings. Now they have earned that same distinction. If you date back to 2003, East Tennessee State has won four games in a row.

Winning can be the ultimate confidence boost, even in a place where it hasn't been done in a while. It's only been two games, but victory, for the Buccaneers, has come with validation. Full of emotion, East Tennessee State is on the rise.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is'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: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports