ETSU turns back Liberty

Photo by Dave Boyd
Liberty wide receiver Adrian Hall is brought down by ETSU's James Rainer (27) and Jamal Rocke.

By Seth Bartee
STAR Correspondent
The East Tennessee State Buccaneers football program saw the end of an era Saturday, because it was ETSU's last homecoming and the last time for alumnus football players to reminisce about the good ole' days of Bucs football.
They left the Mini Dome pleased as ETSU (3-4) defeated Liberty University (2-6) in a non-conference affair, 33-23.
The game started with wide receiver Andrew Nuckolls taking the ball 65 yards for the Bucs' first touchdown of the afternoon. The Bucs' first drive only took 13 seconds to get on the board.
ETSU's Tony Tiller struck next when he intercepted a Liberty pass and returned it for a 31-yard touchdown.
"The biggest thing we wanted to do today was win," said Tiller, a senior. "It feels great to make the big plays. I keep telling the young guys that it takes hard work on the field and in the film room."
The kicking game was even a help for the Bucs Saturday. Recently the kicking game has been an Achilles heel for ETSU with blocked punts in the opponents' red zone. Jon Godfrey connected Saturday for two field goals, the first coming in the second quarter from 29 yards out to make the game 17-7. Godfrey scored again in the third quarter, from 24 yards out also.
"I was proud of our kicking efforts today," said ETSU coach Paul Hamilton. "Our kicking game was the most sound today that is has been. We made a few changes in the punting scheme by adding an extra player."
Tiller made another important play when he intercepted a Liberty pass and returned it 27 yards to seal ETSU's homecoming victory by making the score 33-17. Not only was this Tiller's last homecoming game, but he also reminisced about his first years at ETSU.
"Its kind of weird that this is our last homecoming game," said Tiller. It seems like I just got here. Tiller said that he was very nervous the first time he entered the tunnels of the Mini Dome but Saturday's homecoming was the most special game to him.
Former Dobyns-Bennett quarterback Scott Butler started again for the Bucs and completed 9 of 15 passes for 90 yards. Butler said that he felt comfortable starting and his personal goal was to be smarter on the field.
Today was the first time for the Bucs that someone other than Gaven Varner has rushed for more yards than he has. Andrew Nuckolls ran for 85 yards, with the first touchdown of the day added to his credits.
"I had hoped something good would happen for us today," said Hamilton. "It's the way you like to start off a game, with the offense creating the first positive play for us."
Freshman tackle Mike Cullen led the Bucs with nine tackles Saturday. Cullen is currently second in the Southern Conference with most tackles; he is averaging 11.5 a game.
Coach Hamilon saw something at the end of Saturday's game that he had not seen in a while. Smiles.
"I was really happy for these players," said Hamilton. "It was good to see smiles on their faces for a change. The Lord gave us a great day and it was good to see the alumni and the students leaving the game smiling."
Tiller was injured during the second half of the game but he said that it was only an ankle sprain and he should be ready to play in Greeneville next week.
The Buccaneers will face Furman next Saturday in their first away conference game of the second half of the season.