Southern Pigskin

‘Bucs Win SoCon in Championship Showcase


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By BJ Bennett
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It was a triumph, for East Tennessee State, that comes with a trophy.

nWhat a game Saturday afternoon in Johnson City. What a season for East Tennessee State, one that, looking ahead to the FCS playoffs, continues.

nOn a championship Saturday in the Southern Conference, with the league title on the line with the Buccaneers hosting Mercer, East Tennessee State scored 17 fourth quarter points in earning the second conference championship of the Randy Sanders era. In one of the best games of the college football season, the Buccaneers scored what-proved-to-be the game-winning touchdown on a pass from Tyler Riddle to Malik Murray with 1:47 remaining. A missed field goal attempt from the Bears was the finish to a thrilling SoCon showcase.xc2xa0xc2xa0xc2xa0

nIt was a triumph, for East Tennessee State, that comes with a trophy; the Buccaneers hoisted that hardware high on the field mere moments after Riddle-to-Murray’s late go-ahead conversion. East Tennessee State had just won a championship. The Buccaneers are very much in contention for another.

nContributions came from all over for 8th-ranked East Tennessee State. Riddle threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Murray caught two of those scores, with Will Huzzie adding the other. Quay Holmes ran for 132 yards and a touchdown. Alijah Huzzie had two interceptions and a forced fumble. Tyree Robinson added another kick. Jared Folks led the team with eleven total tackles. Zach West had two tackles for loss. Tyler Keltner made a key fourth quarter field goal.xc2xa0xc2xa0xc2xa0xc2xa0

nIt was yet another close victory for the ever-resilient Buccaneers. Simply put, they have found a way all season; the biggest game of the year was no different. Saturday was East Tennessee State’s fifth win of seven points or less. The Buccaneers expect to be at their best in the deciding moments of games. East Tennessee State forced turnovers on two of Mercer’s fourth quarter drives and got points out of both.

nA championship performance to remember had it all for the Buccaneers. East Tennessee State, at one point, had a 15-play, 97-yard touchdown march, the Buccaneers twice rallied from a touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter and got a late game-winning score from Riddle to Murray. More than 10,500 fans watched East Tennessee State, which didn’t have a football team as recently as 2014 after the program was shut down in 2003, win a second conference championship since 2018.

nThis season has already been a special one as the Buccaneers opened their schedule with a 20-point win at SEC foe Vanderbilt, the first defeat of a Power Five opponent since 1987. Add another SoCon championship, and a 10-1 regular season season, to the record books. The extra pages are adding up.xc2xa0

nA program that went undefeated in 1969 and defeated Terry Bradshaw and Louisiana Tech in the Grantland Rice Bowl, one that beat Villanova in the 1996 FCS playoffs and one that, not very long ago, won on an emotional last-second field goal in what appeared to be its final game ever is making more history. The current SoCon standard, East Tennessee State has both a championship to celebrate and a postseason to prepare for.

nA season for the ages continues.

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: [email protected] / Twitter: @BJBennettSports

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