By MICHAEL WHITE
ETSU Athletic Communications
As the ETSU football program prepares to take on West Virginia Wesleyan on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. inside Kermit Tipton Stadium, the ETSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will also use the occasion to recognize one of the great teams in Buccaneer history, a group that is celebrating the 20-year anniversary of what was a magical season in Southern Conference play.
Back in 1996, the Buccaneers – under the direction of head coach Mike Cavan – gave fans a season to remember by going 10-3 overall and 8-1 in the SoCon, finishing the season with a No. 8 national ranking, and advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs after collecting the program's first-ever playoff victory by a score of 35-29 over Villanova. The team's only losses during that remarkable season were to NCAA Division I-A opponent East Carolina, a Montana team which ultimately played in the national championship game, and to the eventual national champion and SoCon title winner Marshall, a team which was also moving to Division I-A the next season and was led by future NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
Cavan remembers that season fondly, especially considering the state of the program when he and his staff took over following the 1991 season.
"We had gotten there five years before in some tough circumstances and I will never forget coming back to school in January of 1992 after the Christmas break," Cavan said. "There was a big headline in the school newspaper about how we should give up on football at ETSU. Talk about a wake-up call in your first year at a school, but we all just rolled up our sleeves and went to work. The first order of business for us was to recruit, recruit, and recruit some more, and in 1996, we finally turned the corner."
Indeed, it was a year to remember for ETSU fans and ranks alongside the 1969 campaign as the two winningest season's in school history with 10 victories each. The team, led by standouts such as Greg Ryan, B.J. Adigun, Craig Charles, James Russell, Mario Hankerson, Derek Fudge, Sam Haynie, Mark Collins, Brandon Walker, Curtis Eason, and many others, ignited the Bucs' fan base. In the end, the team played in front of the largest home crowd in school history, as 13,313 fans packed Memorial Center to watch what would in effect be the SoCon title game against Marshall on Nov. 9, 1996.
"No question, what comes to mind are the players and coaches that we had," Cavan said. "It was all because of the players, and that's what made us look good as coaches. That group came together and bonded in a special way. We didn't go all the way, but we sure got close. It was the best year I ever had in my head coaching career. It was something special."
As the program remembers that magical 1996 season this year, here is a game-by-game look back at that special year courtesy of the ETSU Athletic Media Relations archives:
August 29, 1996 - Johnson City, Tenn.
ETSU 24, No. 14 Liberty 20
The Buccaneers opened the 1996 season with a Thursday night victory over the Flames of Liberty. There were six lead changes in the contest, but neither team scored after the third quarter. The Bucs took the final lead with less than half a minute remaining in the third quarter, when wide receiver B.J. Adigun took the lateral from Greg Ryan and connected with Marcus Satterfield for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Bucs a 24-20 lead. ETSU's defense was impressive late in the game, forcing a fumble, stopping Liberty on fourth and one, and forcing the Flames to punt.
September 7, 1996 - Greenville, N.C.
East Carolina 45, ETSU 21
Greg Ryan gained the only ETSU career passing record that he didn't already possess with two touchdown throws against Division I-A opponent East Carolina. Ryan and the Buccaneers hung around tough with the Pirates through three quarters, posting their first lead over a Division I-A team in five years (21- 17). The Buccaneers' 21 points marked the second-highest scoring output for ETSU versus a Division I-A opponent since the divisions split in 1982. East Carolina kept its first offensive team in the game until late in the fourth quarter. ETSU's first score was its most memorable, as freshman offensive tackle Manuel Llaneza jumped on a Brian Edwards fumble in the end zone.
September 14, 1996 - Johnson City, Tenn.
ETSU 49, Glenville State 17
The Buccaneer defense was the story in ETSU's win over Glenville State, as the Bucs held the Pioneers to just six rushing yards, the third-lowest total ever for an ETSU opponent. All-American James Russell set a Southern Conference record with seven sacks in the contest, three of which came on one Glenville State drive, two on first-and-goal situations. Russell won Southern Conference DefensivePlayerof- the-Week honors for his performance. Two members of the ETSU secondary scored touchdowns, as cornerback Tyson Taylor ran an interception back 58 yards to hit pay dirt and his fellow cornerback Bron Witten scored on a 33-yard pick. ETSU gained 236 yards rushing in the contest for the best rushing total for the Buccaneers in two years.
September 21, 1996 - Johnson City, Tenn.
ETSU 38, VMI 0
The Bucs extended their home winning streak to seven straight, tying the ETSU record for consecutive home wins, with a 38-0 shutout of VMI. The win was ETSU's largest margin of victory versus a Southern Conference opponent since 1983 and was also the largest for ETSU in the series with VMI. ETSU controlled the clock, holding on to the ball for 36:25, the longest time of possession ever for ETSU. Freshman tailback Brandon Walker earned his first start of the season and responded with 145 yards, the highest individual rushing total for the Bucs since the 1994 season. He was named the Southern Conference Rookie-of-the-Week for his efforts. For the third time in two games, a defensive player scored a touchdown for ETSU. This time, defensive tackle Shon Galloway picked up a fumble caused by James Russell and rumbled in for a sevenyard score. Galloway was named the league's defensive player-of-the-week. The Buccaneer defense had another good day against the run, holding the Southern Conference's reigning rushing champion, Thomas Haskins, to just 53 yards, while the entire VMI offense gained just 90 yards on the ground.
September 28, 1996 - Cullowhee, N.C.
ETSU 49, Western Carolina 10
ETSU won its first road game since the 1994 season with a 49-10 win over the Catamounts on a rainy afternoon in Cullowhee. The win gave the Bucs a 2-0 mark in Southern Conference play for the first time since joining the league and marked the largest margin of victory for ETSU over Western Carolina in the history of the series. For the second consecutive week, ETSU's defense did not allow a touchdown and for the third straight week, a defensive player scored for the Bucs. This time, it was linebacker Mario Hankerson who recovered a fumble and ran for a 38-yard score. Freshman safety Adam Walton had a big day as well, as he caused a fumble on a punt return to set up ETSU's second score, and then intercepted a pass in the third quarter. The Buccaneers rushed for over 200 yards for the third straight week, led by Brandon Walker's 104 yards and two touchdowns. Greg Ryan continued to put his school records out of reach, as he passed for another pair of TDs.
October 5, 1996 - Johnson City, Tenn.
ETSU 31, No. 4 Appalachian State 10
ETSU ended a 14-game losing skid against the Mountaineers with the largest victory in the history of the 68-year series. The win marked the Bucs' second of the season over a ranked team, as Appalachian State entered the contest with a No. 4 national ranking. The win also extended ETSU's winning streak at home to eight, the best in school history. Following the win, ETSU was ranked in the Sports Network I-AA poll for the first time since 1987, earning a No. 22 rank. The Mountaineers entered the contest averaging 277 yards per game rushing, but gained just 69 against a hardnosed Buccaneer "D", the lowest total for ASU in two years. The game marked the fourth in a row that ETSU held its opponent to less than 110 yards on the ground. Rookie runner Brandon Walker continued to impress, going over the century mark in terms of rushing for the third straight week with 147 yards. He became the first ETSU runner since 1989 to accomplish that feat. The Buccaneer offensive line continued to protect its quarterback, allowing no sacks for the third time in 1996. ASU entered the game averaging four sacks per contest.
October 12, 1996 - Charleston, S.C.
No. 16 ETSU 41, The Citadel 20
The Bucs moved up to No. 16 in the polls following their win at the Citadel and became just the fifth team in school history to open the season with a 6-1 mark. Junior wide receiver B.J. Adigun wasn't expected to play much in the contest, as he was nursing several minor injuries, but his "spot play" certainly came in just the right spots. Adigun scored two touchdowns for the Bucs in just 18 seconds, as he made a diving grab to score with just 30 seconds remaining in the first half to give ETSU a 27-7 lead. The Citadel fumbled the ensuing kickoff and on the next play, Greg Ryan connected with Adigun again, this time with 12 seconds remaining in the half. Placekicker Jerry Chapman set the ETSU single-season record for pointafter- touchdown kicks, break the mark of 33 set by Phil Hunt in 1979. Chapman finished the Citadel contest with 34 straight PATs made.
October 26, 1996 - Johnson City, Tenn.
No. 14 ETSU 21, No. 8 Furman 19
The Buccaneers notched their fifth Southern Conference victory of the season for the first time since becoming members of the Southern Conference in 1979. The victory was the first for ETSU against the Paladins in a decade and was the Bucs' third victory over a ranked team for the season. ETSU led for the entire contest, but Furman made things interesting late in the game by blocking a punt for a touchdown with just 1:42 remaining to come to within two. ETSU wide receiver Marcus Satterfield made what could have been the top play for a Buc that afternoon when he jumped up and pulled down the ensuing on-sides kick to preserve the ETSU victory. Quarterback Greg Ryan passed for 238 yards in the contest, breaking the 7,000-yard mark for his career in passing yards and total offense. Satterfield may have been the top all-around performer for the Bucs, as he posted a 48.3 average on four punts and had two kicks over 50 yards. He was also the recipient of a twopoint conversion, held on placements, kept the Paladins from scoring a touchdown on a botched snap and made the big play on the onside kick attempt. Brandon Walker earned Southern Conference Rookie-ofthe- Week honors, as he gained 134 yards on 23 carries and scored a touchdown.
November 2, 1996 - Statesboro, Ga.
No. 9 ETSU 17, Georgia Southern 14
The Bucs became just the 10th team ever to defeat Georgia Southern in Paulson Stadium and snapped the Eagles' 13- game winning streak in Homecoming contest with a 17-14 win. The victory put the Bucs in a position to play top-ranked Marshall for the Southern Conference title on November 9. The win extended ETSU's winning streak to seven straight contests, the longest winning streak in school history. During the sevengame streak, ETSU did not trail on the scoreboard at any time. Brandon Walker ran for 170 yards and a touchdown, his sixth consecutive performance of over 100 yards. Defensively, the Bucs held another one of the conference's top running backs below his rushing average, as GSU's Roderick Russell gained just 93 yards.Wide receiver Marcus Satterfield had the top receiving day of his career with 11 catches for 110 yards. That reception total marked the fifth-best in school history. Once again, a Buccaneer defender got on the scoreboard, as freshman free safety Adam Walton picked up a fumbled snap on a punt attempt and ran it back for a 16- yard touchdown. Walton also intercepted a pass, his second of the season, in the fourth quarter. He was named the National and Southern Conference Defensive Player-of-the-Week for his performance.
November 9, 1996 - Johnson City, Tenn.
No. 1 Marshall 34, No. 7 ETSU 10
The Bucs home winning streak ended at nine as ETSU fell to top-ranked Marshall. The loss also ended the longest overall winning streak in Buc history at seven games. ETSU set what was then an all-time attendance record with 13,131 fans. The Buccaneers finished the contest more even on the stat sheet than on the scoreboard, tallying 427 yards of total offense against a tough Marshall defense that had been allowing just 305 yards per game. ETSU's defense also held the Herd well under its usual rushing average of 233 yards per game, as Marshall ran for just 99 yards. That rushing total was less than half of Marshall's previous low of the season and was the lowest for the squad since October of 1994. Buccaneer wide receiver Greg Johnson posted the top reception yardage game of his career with 180 yards on nine receptions, giving him three of the top 10 single game reception total in school history. Sophomore quarterback Jamey Chadwell was a bright spot for the Bucs, as he came off the bench and completed nine of 13 passes for 96 yards and threw the Bucs' only TD pass, a 19-yarder to B.J. Adigun.
November 16, 1996 - Chattanooga, Tenn.
No. 11 ETSU 28, Chattanooga 24
The Bucs survived a scare in the regular season finale, as they trailed with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. ETSU turned the ball over four times in the contest, the highest number of giveaways for the Bucs all season. The win was the Bucs' fourth-straight on the road, marking the first time since 1969 that ETSU had won four straight road games. ETSU's only score of the first half came on a blocked punt by Greg Johnson that was recovered by linebacker Derek Fudge in the end zone. The play marked Johnson's first on special teams at ETSU. UTC scored on a 61-yard fumble recovery and again on a play set up by an interception thrown by ETSU's Greg Ryan. After trailing 21-7 at halftime, Ryan had two touchdown throws in the third, one to B.J.Adigun and one to Greg Johnson. But with just over six minutes to go in the game, ETSU trailed 24-21. Rookie tailback Brandon Walker took advantage of some inspired Buccaneer blocking to give the Bucs the final edge. Walker carried the ball all 10 plays on the winning touchdown drive, gaining 64 yards and scoring on a one-yard romp.
November 30, 1996 - Johnson City, Tenn.
NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs - First Round
No. 8 ETSU 35, No. 11 Villanova 29
The 1996 Bucs became the program's first team to win a Division I-AA playoff game, and the second team in the 72-year history of the ETSU football program to post 10 wins in a season with an exciting victory over Villanova. ETSU came out strong, posting a 28-3 halftime lead, but the Wildcats battled back in the second half, putting the final tally at 35-29 in favor of the Bucs. The Buccaneer offense was on the field for 21 minutes in the first half, tallying 329 yards of total offense to Villanova's 68. The second half, however, was a different story, as the Bucs managed just 69 more offensive yards and allowed 231. Greg Johnson had an outstanding performance, catching 10 passes for a gain of 140 yards and throwing a touchdown strike to fellow wide receiver Anthony Stringfield. Brandon Walker went over the century mark in terms of rushing for the ninth time this season with 128 yards, while quarterback Greg Ryan posted another solid performance with 237 passing yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, Mario Hankerson led the way with 17 stops, including 13 solo tackles.
December 7, 1996 - Missoula, Mont.
NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs – Quarterfinals
No. 2 Montana 44, No. 8 ETSU 14
The Bucs' Cinderella season came to an end on a snowy day in the mountains of Montana. When the game began, the field was slippery with ice, and by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock most of the ETSU players were covered in mud. Despite the lopsided score, the Buccaneer offense posted some of the best singlegame numbers in school history, as ETSU complied 401 yards in total offense. Quarterback Greg Ryan closed out his career with the seventh-best passingyardage game ever by a Buccaneer with 313 yards. His 51 pass attempts ranked second on the single game list, as did his 29 completions. Anthony Stringfield pulled down a career-best 11 catches in the game and a touchdown. The Buccaneer defense allowed Grizzly quarterback Ah Yat to throw for 372 yards in the first half and the Montana offense gained 596 yards for the afternoon.
More quotes from Mike Cavan:
On the players from 1996: "When I think about that team, I think about our quarterback Greg Ryan. He was like a coach on the field. He just knew the game and ran our team for us. That year we also had a freshman running back in Brandon Walker who was special. Defensively, James Russell was our leader and was just a great kid. He loved to play football, and I've never coached a kid since that loved the game as much as he did."
On the opponents from 1996: "We just couldn't get over that Marshall hump, but that was a different situation because they were about to go Division I-A. I remember beating App State at home because that was something we hadn't done in years. We beat everyone else in the league but Marshall. Then we won that first round playoff game and that was a great game. When we went to Montana that was a great experience playing on the frozen tundra up there. It was amazing. And I think if we had stuck around for another year we would have been just as good. It was just a great group of kids and coaches."