JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Sept. 23, 2017) – William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium now has its first comeback story.
Down 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, the ETSU football team scored 10 unanswered points to force overtime with Southern Conference foe Mercer Saturday afternoon in front of a sold out crowd at their new on-campus home. In the extra period – after the Bears connected on a 29-yard field goal to take a 23-20 lead – ETSU junior quarterback Austin Herink (Cleveland) wasted little time, finding junior tailback Jajuan Stinson (Knoxville) wide open in the end zone on the Buccaneers first play of the extra period, giving ETSU a dramatic 26-23 win and its first SoCon victory of the season.
The Bucs, who improved to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in SoCon play, were led by Herink’s career high 284 yards passing and 34 yards rushing, as he went 26-of-33 through the air and finished with two touchdowns (one passing/one rushing). Meanwhile, Mercer dropped to 1-3, 0-2. ETSU is now 2-0 in overtime games since the return of the program in 2015, and 4-2 all-time in OT.
The Bucs’ comeback was a dramatic turn of events. After having missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game at 13 late in the third quarter, the Bucs instead watched the Bears drive 85 yards to score a touchdown and take a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter. The crowd of 8,022 fell quiet.
But from there, ETSU outscored the Bears 16-3 the rest of the way to collect its first win over Mercer in three tries. Since the return of football in 2015, ETSU had played Mercer in all three seasons and lost a close battle in Macon, Ga., 21-13 a year ago.
For the game, Mercer outgained the Bucs 406-387. While the Bears held a 149-103 advantage on the ground, the Bucs threw for 284 yards compared to 257 for Mercer.
Defensively, the Bucs held Mercer to just one touchdown in its first six possessions and kept the Bears to just a 2-of-10 clip on third down conversions. Defensive back Kaman Cooper (Warner Robins, Ga.) led ETSU with eight tackles, while linebacker J.D. Griffin (Kodak) had a sack and two tackles for loss on the night.
HOW THEY SCORED
ETSU 7, Mercer 0 – After Mercer’s first offensive play of the game resulted in a 49-yard pass to the ETSU 34-yard line, the Bucs’ defense stopped the Bears’ drive by coming up with a turnover. Following a fumble by Mercer tailback Tee Mitchell, ETSU linebacker Dylan Weigel (Pickerington, Ohio) picked up the loose ball and returned it 50 yards to the Mercer 21-yard line. Four players later, Herink scrambled in from three yards out to give ETSU the early 7-0 with 9:25 left in the first quarter.
ETSU 10, Mercer 0 – The two teams traded a pair of possessions before the Bucs’ offense broke through again with a sustained drive. Going 49 yards on 12 plays, the Bucs used up 5:34 on the clock and capped the drive with a 25-yard field goal by junior place kicker JJ Jerman (Seymour) to take a 10-point lead with 10:40 left in the first half.
ETSU 10, Mercer 6 – Mercer picked up its first points of the game with an impressive nine-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Kaelen Riley and wide receiver Chandler Curtis. On the play, Riley faked a pitch play and Curtis was wide open behind the ETSU defense. The extra point by Cole Fisher was no good and the Bucs retained a four-point lead.
Mercer 13, ETSU 10 – The Bears were the recipients of a pair of pass interference calls on their next possession, and a 33-yard pass to wide our Avery Ward also helped as Mercer took the lead on a two-yard run by tailback CJ Leggett. The extra point was good and the four-play, 74-yard drive left the Bears with a three-point lead and 10:10 left in the third quarter.
Mercer 20, ETSU 10 – Disaster struck for the Bucs on back-to-back possessions, as the ETSU offense drove to the Mercer 6-yard line and had an opportunity to either tie or take the lead. However, after the drive stalled, a 23-yard field goal attempt by Jerman was missed following a low snap from Adam Mullins (Elizabethton). Mercer then took their new possession and went 80 yards in eight plays, scoring on a two-yard run by Mitchell and making it 20-10 in favor of the Bears with 1:11 left in the third quarter.
Mercer 20, ETSU 13 – The ETSU comeback began on the Bucs’ first offensive possession after having fallen behind by 10. Moving the ball 54 yards in 13 plays, the ETSU drive stalled but Jerman made up for his earlier miss by connecting from 49 yards out and pulling the Bucs to within a touchdown with 11:22 left in regulation.
Mercer 20, ETSU 20 – After Mercer’s Cole Fisher missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, the Bucs covered 80 yards in eight plays, which included a 33-yard pass from Herink to freshman wide receiver Braxton Richburg (Hoschton, Ga.) and a 20-yard strike to junior wide out Kobe Kelley (Knoxville, Tenn.), which set up a one yard scoring run by freshman tailback Blake Rodgers (Kingsport). Jerman’s extra point was good to tie the game.
Mercer 23, ETSU 20 – After picking up a first down and reaching the Bucs’ 12-yard line, ETSU’s defense stiffened and forced a 29-yard field goal by Fisher. The kick was good and the Bucs went on offense.
ETSU 26, Mercer 23 – On their first play of overtime, the Bucs ran Stinson out of the backfield and into the Mercer secondary. The matchup was ideal and Herink found his backfield mate wide open for the game-winning, 25-yard score.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
With their fumble recovery in the first quarter, the Bucs now have a takeaway in each of their first four games, and have forced a turnover in nine straight contests.
Mercer entered the game 13-of-13 in red zone offense this year, but were held to a 3-of-4 effort against the Bucs.
The Bucs won time of possession battle, holding the ball for 35:57 compared to 24:03 for the Bears.
After struggling earlier this year, punter Marion Watson averaged 41.2 yards per punt on the day and had two kicks downed inside the 20. He also had a long of 54 yards. None of his punts were returnable on the day. Three of Landon Kunak’s (Spartanburg, S.C.) five kickoffs went for touchbacks.
With his two extra points and two field goals in the game, Jerman made some history. He now has 49 extra points in his career and moved into a tie for fifth on the all-time list with Herbie Campbell. Meanwhile, his two field goals were the 24th and 25th of his career, moving him past former kicker Bobby Neff for fourth all-time. His 49-yard kick is his career long and the fourth longest in program history. It was the longest field goal since Jonathan Godfrey’s 51-yarder against Concord in 2003.
Blake Rodgers’ rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter was the first score of his collegiate career
Jajuan Stinson finished with 94 all-purpose yards … Stinson total four receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown, while posting 34 rushing yards … Kobe Kelley finished with career highs in receptions (5) and receiving yards (40)
This marked Austin Herink’s five career comeback victory with three coming in the fourth quarter or overtime … Following his 318 yards of total offense on Saturday, Herink moved past Jeff Morgan for sixth all-time in program history with 4,107 yards.
Two of Austin Gatewood’s (Ooltewah, Tenn.) four tackles went for losses, including a key fourth-quarter TFL, which set up Fisher’s 35-yard missed field goal … River Boruff (Sparta, Tenn.) ended with seven tackles … Junior defensive lineman Tremond Ferrell (Washington, Ga.) forced the fumble which set up Weigel’s 50-yard return.
The teams combined for 21 penalties and 214 yards … The Bucs were penalized 11 times for 119 yards and Mercer was flagged 10 times for 95 yards.