Varner's running makes solid dent in VMI defense

By Matt Hill

   JOHNSON CITY--Most of the press clippings about East Tennessee State football this year have been about the lack of offensive production.
   Gaven Varner decided to change the headlines.
   Varner finished with 128 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns in the Bucs' 35-21 win over VMI Saturday night at Memorial Center.
   In addition to all the yardage, Varner also scored three first-half touchdowns.
   ETSU was up 28-0 at the half thanks to Varner's effort.
   Varner gave credit to the team, and especially the offensive line.
   "We've been coming together as a team," Varner said. "We had a young offensive line, now we're starting to see that everybody's getting the hang of everything. As you can see, we got the flow of things."
   Varner wanted to show the Tri-Cities media that the ETSU offense could move the ball.
   "That's the only thing that has been said, the offense is weak and the defense is strong," Varner said. "But we have a young offense. We're going to start working together, and practice working harder and harder, then everybody is going to start getting the flow of things and we're going to be successful."
   Varner pulled a hamstring in the third quarter, and had to leave the game. After that, the Buccaneer offense only scored one touchdown.
   But Varner wants to be ready for the meat of the conference schedule, and didn't want to take any chances.
   "I was disappointed," Varner said. "We had a big enough lead, so we didn't want to risk nothing serious. We didn't want to risk hurting it even more. We've got to wait until next week. We're going to work on it and see how it feels."
   After 15 games as a Buccaneer, N.C. State transfer Jatavis Sanders finally got the opportunity to start at quarterback.
   He made the most of it.
   Sanders finished the night 20-of-31 for 213 yards and one interception. He also ran for a 21-yard touchdown to bring the game to its final score of 35-21.
   Sanders was the third quarterback to start for the Bucs this year, but this outing was by far the most impressive by any quarterback.
   Sanders was grateful for the opportunity.
   "It felt good," Sanders said. "I just give God all the praise. He blessed me to hang in there and be strong through everything that I've been through. He finally gave me the opportunity."
   The highly-touted ETSU defense wasn't exactly the strong point of the Buccaneer team Saturday night, but the play of the evening was made by a defensive player.
   Defensive back Montreal Harkley came up with a big stop on fourth and goal with VMI at the ETSU one-yard line. The score was 28-14 at the time with 12:00 to go in the fourth quarter, and had the Keydets scored, who knows what might have happened.
   Harkley pushed T.J. Snelling back for a two-yard loss, and gave the Bucs the football.
   "I knew they were running the ball," Harkley said. "Coach dropped me down in the middle, sort of like a linebacker. They had me to the runner. I just read it. I saw a seam and made the tackle."
   It was a big night all the way around for Harkley, as he also had two interceptions on the evening.
   The Bucs have been decimated by injuries this season, but some good news happened Saturday night to one player who has barely practiced.
   Linebacker Mike Cornegay returned to action against VMI, and finished the night with seven tackles.
   In other news on the injury front, linebacker Scott Brumett missed the game Saturday night and defensive back Tony Tiller saw limited action.