Catamounts repel East Tennessee St.SoCon encounter littered with turnovers

Photo by Dave Boyd
ETSU's Brian Jones latches on to Xavier Goddard of Western Carolina.

By Seth Bartee
STAR Correspondent
JOHNSON CITY--It's hard to measure heart.
The Western Carolina defeated the ETSU Buccaneers 28-21 on Saturday in its second Southern Conference of the season. On the heart meter as far Bucs Coach Paul Hamilton is concerned, his team won.
"I've been in the profession a long time but I have never coached a better group of men," said Hamilton. "The heart they show can never be measured; there is not enough points on the scoreboard to show it."
Hamilton said this would be the most difficult team the Bucs had so far this season; they were.
The first quarter for the Bucs proved to be definitive. Bucs punt returner Allen Davis fumbled the ball deep inside ETSU territory. This set up the Catamounts for an easy one yard to make it 7-0 with 11:59 to go in the first quarter.
Less than two minutes later the Catamounts blocked a punt on a short field for the Bucs. T. Alford caught the ball in mid-air in the Western Carolina end zone, putting the Catamounts up 14-0 with 10:20 left in the first quarter.
"We emphasized special teams this week." said Alford. "We made it the big deal this week."
The crowd, quiet in the first quarter, thought they were going to see a blowout. But the Bucs then got a little fate on their side.
The Bucs took over the ball with 10:20 on the clock in the first quarter and scored a one-yard run by Gaven Varner more than seven minutes later. Western Carolina made five penalties to help the Bucs move into the red zone.
At the end of the first quarter the Catamounts had committed six penalties for 40 yards. In their first four games WCU averaged a little over nine penalties a game, adding up to 328 yards overall.
To begin the second quarter Brian Gaither connected with junior wide receiver Michael Reeder on a four-yard pass to put up the Catamounts 20-7. This would be the last time they scored until 8:15 in the third quarter.
The Catamounts set up for a field goal after running nine plays for 67 yards. With 3:30 left in the first half, a Chris Vought kick was blocked and run back 95 yards by Gerald Sensabaugh to bring the Bucs within striking distance.
"I just wanted to get the ball down the field and score," said Sensabaugh. "I didn't here a whistle so I picked it up and ran it in, it came out successful. I think it was a great momentum shifter."
The third quarter was littered with missed opportunities by ETSU's offense. Freshman quarter Carl Meadows only completed 3 of 19 passes for 20 yards. Andrew Nuckolls, who stood out early in the season, did not stand out Saturday. He had three carries for two yards and a missed pass near an open end zone.
Gaither connected with wide receiver Lamont Seward on a third and seven to put the Catamounts at first and goal. T. Alford also converted a two point conversion on a sweep to make the score 28-14.
"We had a lot of weird plays at the end, it was a little wacky for us offensively," said Gaither. The offensive player of the week for the Southern Conference performance Saturday saw him throw for 228 yards but threw four interceptions.
Western Carolina was driving down field in the third quarter when he threw an interception to Montreal Harkley. Harkley ran it back for 52 yards to make the score 28-21. Despite the momentum the Bucs could not convert on third downs as they were 1 for 13. They ran out of time in the fourth quarter.
"The Bucs kept battling and keeping pressure on us," said Western Carolina Coach Kent Briggs. "But we did not fold. The Citadel charged late in the game last week and we knew we could do it. ETSU did not let the game get away from them, Hamilton has done a great job coaching this team; I will miss playing here."
"These kids mean the world to me, all I want to do is lead these kids out on the field each week," said Hamilton. But he may be leading a different quarterback out on the field next week against Appalachian State. Redshirt freshman Scott Butler played at the end of the game ran for two plays on a gain of 16 yards.
"We are going to run the option and will bring the player out who can do it," Hamilton said.
The Buccaneers, as said many times, are playing with a small lineup -- so small that some have told Hamilton how difficult his task is to coach this team.
"I talked to a big name division one football coach and he told me that coaching this team was the biggest challenge in America," said Hamilton. "We ain't quittin', we are going to play harder than ever.
The Bucs will play Appalachian State in Boone next week in its third conference game. The game will be at 3:30 p.m.