Bucs aim to keep home streak going against Paladins

By Allen LaMountain
ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
awlamountain@starhq.com

   With a three-game home winning streak against the Furman Paladins on the line Saturday afternoon, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers hope to stretch that to four and launch themselves back into the Southern Conference race.
   ETSU (2-2 SoCon, 4-4 overall) could find themselves in third place in the conference with a win, while a loss gives the Bucs little chance of moving into playoff position.
   "I think that last week we played the best overall game that we have as a team," said Bucs head coach Paul Hamilton. "Offensively we were productive through most of the game, but what was most upsetting was that we did some things to hurt ourselves on offense."
   With senior quarterback Jatavis Sanders having his best game as a member of the team, the Bucs aerial attack was formidable, even while the ground game was limited.
   Sanders completed 17-of-29 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns to senior flanker Cecil Moore in a breakthrough ballgame for both struggling seniors.
   Moore in particular came through big time with eight receptions for 95 yards in what was his best performance of an otherwise disappointing senior year.
   "Cecil looked like he was ready to play," Hamilton said. "He was much more relaxed and loose. He had a smile on his face and was much more himself."
   Furman (3-1 SoCon, 5-2 overall) comes in ranked sixth in the nation in the ESPN/USA Today poll and are number four in the Sports Network poll, and are highly regarded for a reason.
   Senior quarterback Bill Napier leads the SoCon in passing efficiency with a 169.6 rating. Napier has completed 103-of-149 (69.1 percent) for 1,504 yards and nine scores.
   Napier's main target is senior WR Bear Reinhart who has caught 36 passes for 572 yards (15.9 average) and three scoring receptions.
   Napier will have to contend with a Bucs secondary that has played exceptionally well this season, surrendering just five touchdown passes while picking off 12 enemy aerials.
   ETSU's defense has held opposing QBs to under 50 percent completion percentage, but Napier is the best signal caller the Bucs have faced this season.
   "(Napier) is a very accurate passer," said Hamilton. "If we play the run heavy, then that sets up play-action for him. He runs their offense very well, but our safety tandem -- particularly Montreal (Harkley) have played as well as any pair of safeties in the conference."
   With Allen Dykes and Tony Tiller at cornerback the Paladins air game may suffer a bit, as they have shown an ability to make big plays for ETSU in the secondary.
   The Paladins will be without fullback Al Means, who tore a knee ligament in Furman's 16-15 loss to Appalachian State, but Furman is not without weapons in the running game.
   RB Hindley Brigham has rushed for 406 yards (6.2 ypc) to lead the team and is currently eighth on the SoCon rushing list.
   The Bucs running game is spearheaded by Gaven Varner, who despite an up-and-down season, has shown flashes of being a quality tailback.
   Varner has rushed for 427 yards on 102 carries (4.2 ypc) and has scored six touchdowns. Varner could play a big role in this contest if the Bucs can get the ground game working to keep Furman's explosive offense off the field with time consuming drives.
   If it comes down to the kicking game the Bucs will be at a serious disadvantage as they have yet to find a consistent field goal kicker this season with both Scott Salmons and Ben Godfrey struggling.
   "We have hit on just five-of-14 field goals," said Hamilton. "And I'm not asking these guys to kick 48 yarders. Most of them are within reach. We can't go on fourth and seven all game long, we have to get some consistency in that area."
   Game time is set for 3:30 at Memorial Center.