N.C. State major obstacle for ETSU

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- The East Tennessee State basketball team beat N.C. State three-straight years in the late 80's and early 90's, Andy Baxter transferred to ETSU from N.C. State and turned out to be one of the best baseball players in school history, and ETSU's football team beat the Wolfpack in 1987.
   Now in 2002, ETSU fullback Scott Carter wants to add to the Buccaneers tradition against N.C. State when the boys from Johnson City travel to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
   "You always want to add a positive chapter to the events of our school," Carter said. "I think the history that we've had goes a long way to give us a little encouragement to say hey we've been there and we've been able to accomplish it before.
   "In the back of your mind you say 'hey, the guys before us have gone and paved the way.' If we can believe and do what we're supposed to do and give everything that we've got, you never know what's going to happen."
   The Bucs have a tall task in front of them facing an ACC school that is being considered one of the favorites in that league. But the Bucs have won there before, and they did it with ETSU head football coach Paul Hamilton on the sidelines as an assistant.
   ETSU, who was coached by current Wofford head coach Mike Ayers at that time, took the Bucs to Raleigh and defeated the Wolfpack 29-14 just three weeks after N.C. State had defeated No. 7 Clemson.
   "For me personally it will be a lot of fun to go back," Hamilton said. "That was a great afternoon there. We were able to go and accomplish that.
   It seems like a long time ago now. It certainly was a long time ago. I'm excited about going and coaching the game and playing."
   The Wolfpack, who is threatening to make the top 25, already has a game under its belt. N.C. State defeated New Mexico last Saturday 34-14.
   In that contest, Wolfpack quarterback Phillip Rivers threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more. Rivers finished the day 15-of-24 for 276 yards.
   Hamilton watched the game Saturday afternoon, and was very impressed with the Wolfpack quarterback.
   "Certainly all the things I say about Phillip Rivers held true," Hamilton said. "He is the catalyst of their football team I think. I felt like watching him play there were no surprises to me. He made the plays that you know he's going to make. I felt like offensively he was very impressive."
   Rivers has some good targets to throw to in Jerricho Cotchery, Devonte Edwards, Bryan Peterson and Sterling Hicks.
   "I think their receivers are very skilled players," Hamilton said.
   On Saturday, N.C. State was led in rushing by true freshman T.A. McClendon. He rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries.
   "The freshman running back is going to be an outstanding player," Hamilton said. "I look for him to play a great deal against us Saturday."
   The N.C. State defense, led by All-ACC free safety Terrance Holt, made life miserable for New Mexico on Saturday.
   "New Mexico last year had a pretty good offensive football team at the end of the season," Hamilton said. "And N.C. State's defense pretty much dominated them for the majority of the game. It's obvious to me as I watch their football team that Chuck Amato (N.C. State head coach) has tried to build their defense around the same mold that Florida State tries to play with and that's with 11 guys on the field that can flat run. And they do have outstanding speed as a defensive football team."
   As for the Bucs, the late summer practices have been filled with domination by the defense, but total lack of production by the offense.
   One question mark has been at quarterback. Dashannon Gamble will be the starter, but Jason Davis and Jatavis Sanders will most likely see action.
   Sanders happens to be an N.C. State transfer. The ETSU coaching staff thought Sanders was going to be a special player, but things just haven't panned out as of yet.
   It could be tough for Sanders going back to Raleigh not being the starter, but Hamilton says that he is taking it just fine.
   "Jatavis is such a great young man, and has become a very fine leader on this football team," Hamilton said. "I've talked to him about it, and that this game plays some special emotion to him. When he gets in the game he's got to phase all that out, and execute the things that he needs to do at quarterback to be successful.
   "But there's no question that this game has an added meaning to him. I know that he wants to start, and would love to have the opportunity to start in this football game. But our plans are to start Dashannon Gamble. He's the one that has been the most productive player when you go back to spring practice and in the preseason."
   Another offensive position that's up in the air is tailback, but Gavin Varner, Mando Miller and Marcus Barnes should all see action.
   The young offensive line should be tested, but Hamilton is very pleased with development of players like Mitch Hughes and Eric Losey.
   The defense, which is being touted as one of the best in school history, will definitely be tested by Rivers and company.
   The Bucs have several All-SoCon players on defense, including All-American defensive back Tony Tiller. But this will be a big challenge for the defense.
   "We feel like we've got a chance to be a very good defensive football team this year, and we feel good about our secondary," Hamilton said. "And it's ironic we're opening the season I guess facing one of the top passers in the country. I think certainly our defensive football team and our secondary have not seen the look that they're going to see Saturday night. This is going to be a great challenge for our defensive football team and for our secondary."
   The Bucs will be heavy underdogs in their season-opener, but they want to go over there and shock N.C. State once more.
   "We're just going into the game just to give them everything we've got," Carter said. "It's going to be an unbelievable challenge, and we're going to go in thinking we've got nothing to lose. We're going to lay it all on the field, and have faith in our coaches to make the right calls in the right situations, do what we've been coached to do and lay it all on the line. Hopefully, we're going to go over there and have an upset, and be able to have stories to tell our grandkids.
   Gametime is at 7.