Bucs go out with flourish

Win program's final game on late Godfrey field goal

Photo By Dave Boyd
ETSU quarterback Carl Meadows lunges into the end zone for a touchdown.

By Seth Bartee
STAR Correspondent

   It's difficult to lead into a story that includes love, God, family, history, academia, a prominent basketball coach and fairy-tale endings. These kinds of ideals and subjects make for good movies and New York Times columns.
   In picking from one of the top subjects, history first comes to mind. There is a debate among academics about the cycle of history. Does history end, as scholar Francis Fukuyama believes, or does it never end, as Victor Davis Hanson assumes
   Saturday at the Memorial Center in Johnson City, no one had to be an academic to know that the football program is ending but the history they made will not.
   The ETSU Bucs won their final game, against the Citadel (6-6, 4-4 SoCon), in fairy-tale like fashion, 16-13 with two seconds left in the game.
   Paul Hamilton was asked to sum up this (5-7, 2-6 SoCon) season in one word.
   "Winner," said Hamilton.
   "This has to go down as one of the greatest games in my coaching career. I did not pray to win because I do not think that's right. But I did pray for the right outcome, and I think it happened."
   In the fourth quarter, with 4:24 left in the game, ETSU got the ball back on its own 12-yard line. The Bucs drove to their own 40 on a Gaven Varner 7-yard run. On second-and-10, redshirt freshman quarterback Carl Meadows hit Brian Matthews for a 51-yard pass that put the Bucs at Citadel 9.
   Failing to run the ball in on first and second and goal, Hamilton decided to give Johnson City native and Science Hill graduate Jon Godfrey a chance to win the game. Godfrey had already missed an extra point kick early in the game. but this time he connected from 22 yards out and won the game with two ticks left on the clock.
   "I dreamed last night that the game would come down to me kicking a field goal," said Godfrey. Godfrey said as he walked onto the field he thought about his team's trials and tribulations they had gone through this year.
   "I was overjoyed when coach called on me to kick for the win," he said.
   Early, the game did not look promising for the Bucs' last game. Citadel got on the board first as Willie Simmons hit J. Anderson for a 5-yard TD pass to put up the Bulldogs 7-0 in the first.
   Meadows created opportunities for his team as he cruised in the end zone on an 18-yard run with 14:10 remaining in the second quarter. Before the half could end the Bulldogs Travis Zobel hit a 25-yard field goal to lead the Citadel into the locker room with a 10-6 edge.
   ETSU basketball coaching legend Les Robinson dropped by to see the game Saturday. Robinson said he was disappointed to see the ETSU lose football.
   "This is a disappointing and sad day for ETSU football," said Robinson. "I understand some of the financial issues that have occurred here in Tennessee. Just last year West Virginia dropped five sports teams."
   Robinson said he knew what the problem is for ETSU football.
   "The biggest problem for ETSU is this dome," he said. "Even during harsh weather no one wants to watch football indoors."
   Weather was not a factor as ETSU's band of brothers entered Memorial for the second half.
   Travis Zobel picked up where he left off in the first half with another field goal, this time from 30 yards out, to make the score 13-6.
   Nearing the end of the third quarter, Meadows hooked up with Matthews for a 51-yard gain, to put ETSU on the Citadel 15. A rowdy 5,911 fans went crazy as the pass went inside the red zone. Meadows then passed to Nick Spearman for an 8-yard score.
   "I told Carl in my office earlier this season that he was going to win a game for us," said Hamilton. "I really believe we got better as the season ended. That's thanks to the assistant coaches and the work ethic of these kids."
   It was a team effort for the Bucs as the same players that have produced all year did so again Saturday. Gaven Varner rushed for 197 yards; this was the sixth time this season he has rushed for over 100 yards in a game.
   "My hip was very sore today but sometimes you have to play through the pain," said Varner.
   Since Varner is from the low country of South Carolina, this game meant a lot to him.
   "I can go home now and brag about our win," he said, adding that ETSU's last game has not set in yet, and that he just wanted to celebrate before he thought about it.
   Defensively, the Bucs were stellar as usual. They held the Bulldogs to 53 yards rushing, had 2 interceptions and one sack, and only allowed 6 of 16 in third-down tries. Montreal Harkley had both interceptions for ETSU. Matt Palmer led the team in tackles with 10, and league tackles leader Mike Cullen had five on the day.
   "I cannot say enough about our defense," said Hamitlon. "Billy Taylor has run the race with me and stuck it out. This defense fought and scrapped today and they did it without starters Travis Williams, Mike Cornegay and Tony Tiller."
   After the game the crowd went wild and the Bucs celebrated openly on the field. Fans were trying to escape to the field to celebrate, only to be pushed back by police. Paul Hamilton prayed on the field and Memorial Stadium was silenced to hear him.
   "I want to thank God for Jesus," prayed Hamilton. "I pray for all of us as we start a new beginning. All glory is to God."
   Hamilton's disposition of steadfastness and love for God is nothing new for his wife, Jane Hamilton. She said she has always known her husband to be a man of God since they met as seniors at Appalachian State.
   "He has incredible faith in God," said Jane Hamilton. "I have grown seeing my husband have his last season as coach. Even when he struggles he is looking to God and keeping the family focused.
   "We just want the administration of ETSU to know that we have no hard feelings and we are praying for everyone."
   Mrs. Hamilton said she wants God's plans for her family to prevail as her husband looks for another job.
   Coach Hamilton said with tears in his eyes that he dedicated this game to his late mother.
   "I lost my mother a few years back," said Paul Hamilton. "She always wanted me to beat The Citadel, even though my dad coached there."
   In the most emotional time of the afternoon, Hamilton looked up and spoke to his late mother.
   "Mom. We got em' again," he said. "I wish ETSU the best. I will pray for the players and the people of ETSU tonight."