East Tennessee State deflates Western Carolina

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   CULLOWHEE, N.C. -- It was the first real Southern Conference test of the season for East Tennessee State, and the Bucs passed it with flying colors.
   The Bucs used a great defensive effort and a strong offensive output to ensure a 27-7 victory over the Western Carolina Catamounts at E.J. Whitmire Stadium on Saturday night.
   "I'm so proud of this team, and I'm proud of these kids," ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton said. "Two weeks from tonight we were flat on our back and on the floor.
   "A lot of people had written our football team off. Don't get me wrong, we've got so much work to do with our football team. But the bottom line is I'm so proud of this team."
   ETSU took advantage of a Catamount personal foul penalty, and hit paydirt first when Gaven Varner scored from three yards out to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead at the 1:07 mark of the first quarter.
   The Bucs gave Western Carolina a golden opportunity midway through the second quarter when a pass from Jatavis Sanders was fumbled by Cecil Moore, one of his four fumbles in the first half.
   Western recovered and took over at the ETSU 22-yard line, and the Catamounts would capitalize.
   On the fourth play of the drive, Western quarterback Brian Gaither ran into the end zone from the four to tie the contest at 7-7. The touchdown may have been set up by Moore's fumble, but he would get some redemption right before halftime.
   After ETSU drove it down to the Western 8-yard line, Sanders found Moore in the end zone and the Morristown native came up with a spectacular grab to put the Bucs up 14-7 in the final seconds of the first half.
   Moore felt like he needed to make a play.
   "I don't know what's going on, but I guess that's the mark of a good player," Moore said. "Sometimes you're down, but then you've got to step up and help out your team."
   Three different Buccaneers place-kickers participated in this game, but the first ETSU field goal in the contest was made by Wes Sands. His 39-yard field goal increased ETSU's lead to 17-7 with 7:31 to go in the third.
   "The kick he made was probably the biggest kick of the night," Hamilton said.
   The Bucs were ahead 20-7 with about six minutes to go in regulation, and they needed a big play.
   Gerald Sensabaugh delivered it.
   Sensabaugh intercepted Gaither at the Western 32 and ran it into the end zone to bring the game to its final score of 27-7.
   "The quarterback was scrambling and I just saw a guy about to break on a dig," Sensabaugh said. "He just stepped in front of me and he threw the ball right to me. I just took it for the big gain."
   This game was a total ETSU domination. The Bucs rushed for 224 yards, while the Western offense could just never get going.
   "I'm real proud of our defense," Hamilton said. "I thought our coaches did an incredible job defensively."
   Hamilton was also happy about an offense that struggled early in the season, but has now really progressed.
   "I'm pleased with our offense," Hamilton said. "We did not play well in the second half, but we had 200 yards of offense in the first half. We blew a couple of opportunities, but the positive thing about our offensive football team is I think now I can look at our offense week in and week out and see where we need to go and how we can make improvements as an offensive football team."
   Scott Carter led the Bucs in rushing with 92 yards. Western was held to 71 total net yards rushing as a team.
   Sanders finished 7-of-17 for 60 yards through the air. Moore topped the Bucs in receptions with three for 50 yards.
   Western quarterbacks Pat Cliento and Gaither combined to go 16-of-44 and throw three picks.
   The Bucs improved to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the SoCon, while Western is now 3-2 and 1-1 in league play.
   ETSU will try to make it three straight wins next Saturday against SoCon preseason favorite Appalachian State in Memorial Center.