ETSU streaks into showdown with Wofford

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF

   JOHNSON CITY -- "The Grinch" may be coming to home video next week, but not even he could ruin the ETSU football team's holiday season if the Bucs can win out.
   The Bucs are on a three-game winning streak headed into their final two games of the season. ETSU plays VMI on Thanksgiving, but up first its Wofford Saturday afternoon at Gibbs Stadium.
   Gametime is at 1:30 p.m.
   After what started out as a rough season, the Bucs found a way to turn it around and are now 5-4 heading into this matchup with the Terriers. ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton knows that a win Saturday would secure a third-straight winning season, something that hasn't happened since the 1950's.
   "We have the opportunity to be the first staff in a long time to have three-straight winning seasons," Hamilton said. "If we can win out, it would be one of the better seasons of ETSU football."
   If the Bucs are going to clinch a winning season Saturday, they will have to do it against a team that is probably better than its 3-6 overall record. Wofford has lost close conference games to Appalachian State, Western Carolina and Chattanooga, and the Terriers have also been defeated by South Carolina and Clemson.
   The ETSU game is probably one Wofford head coach Mike Ayers wants to win badly, as he coached at East Tennessee State in the mid-1980's.
   "I have a lot of respect for Mike Ayers, and the job he's done at Wofford," Hamilton said. "His teams come to play every week. I really think we're playing the best 3-6 team in the country in 1-AA. They are a good football team."
   Wofford is led by quarterback Travis Wilson, the school's all-time leading passer with 3,934 yards. Wilson has also rushed for 386 yards this season.
   "He's a heck of a player," Hamilton said. "He's brought so many things to their football team with the number of ways he can beat you."
   In watching game film of the Terriers, Hamilton was impressed by Wofford's offensive line.
   "They have a real physical offensive line every year," Hamilton said. "This year's no exception. Their kids really block well up front."
   Led by nose guard Nathan Fuqua, the Terriers have a very strong defensive front.
   "Their defensive front is one of the best in the Southern Conference." Hamilton said. "Fuqua is really a fine football player inside. He has outstanding size and speed."
   If the Wofford defensive front actually is one of the Southern Conference's best, that could spell trouble for an already struggling ETSU running game. Last week, starting tailback Corey Carter could only manage 15 net rushing yards in ETSU's 32-10 victory over Chattanooga.
   Things could be shaken up a little bit this Saturday, as Terry Copeland and Andrew Nuckolls should be receiving more carries at tailback.
   "We're going to give Andrew Nuckolls a look at tailback this weekend, and get him back in the backfield," Hamilton said. "I think the thing Nuckolls does for us is he gives us a little shake. He's got some quickness about him as far as getting into his speed. We're going to give him a look back there, and probably play Terry Copeland some more.
   "We're missing that breakaway guy at tailback this year, and maybe that's where Nuckolls can help us a little bit this week."
   The ETSU defense will be challenged against Wofford, but has passed other tests with flying colors this season. The Bucs allowed only 240 yards of offense against the Mocs.
   "We're a young defense, but a defense that's very athletic," Hamilton said. "If our defense was not playing like they were, we would be in a tough situation."
   The next two weeks are critical for the Bucs. Two losses would mean the first losing season since 1998, but wins over Wofford and VMI gives the Bucs a 7-4 record, and a legitimate possibility of being ranked in the top 25.
   "I hope if we won out we maybe could slip into the top 25," Hamilton said. "I would hope we would get some kind of consideration."