JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 22, 2003) - In East Tennessee State's final game in program history, junior kicker Jonathan Godfrey (Johnson City, Tenn.) kicked a game-winning 22-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, and senior tailback Gaven Varner (Summerville, S.C.) rushed for a career-high 197 yards as the Bucs defeated The Citadel, 16-13, Saturday afternoon from Memorial Center in Johnson City, Tenn.
The Citadel (6-6, 4-4 Southern Conference) got on the board first, as quarterback Willie Simmons hit wideout Jermaine Anderson for a five-yard touchdown. The play capped a 15-play, 77-yard drive that took 7:34 off of the clock. Simmons was 6-fo-6 passing on the first drive, and completed his first seven passes of the game.
East Tennessee State (5-7, 2-6 SoCon) charged right back on the shoulders of Varner. Out of a 10-play, 80-yard drive, Varner rushed eight times for 32 yards. The drive was punctuated by an 18-yard touchdown run on a draw by redshirt freshman quarterback Carl Meadows (Cumming, Ga.). It was Meadows' second rushing touchdown in the last two weeks, as he also scored on a draw play last Saturday in a victory over The Citadel. The Bucs missed the extra point, making the score 7-6 with 14:10 remaining in the first half.
The Citadel kicker Travis Zobel pushed the Bulldog lead to 10-6 with a 25-yard field goal with just one second left in the half. The Citadel ended up with the ball in good field position for the final drive of the second quarter following a wild exchange of turnovers. With 1:26 remaining, ETSU fumbled a Zobel punt, giving the Bulldogs the ball at the 39 of the Bulldogs. Two plays later, Buccaneer senior safety Montreal Harkley (Hanahan, S.C.) intercepted his first of two passes of the day at the ETSU 27. The Bucs then put together a short drive before Meadows was sacked by Julian West, who forced a fumble that was recovered by Marcus Cohen at the ETSU 43. Simmons then put together a quick six-play, 35-yard drive that led to the field goal.
"This was a tough game, but both teams were sloppy," said The Citadel head coach Ellis Johnson. "The key to the game was we got whipped at the line on offense and defense."
Zobel then put the Bulldogs up by seven points with a 30-yard field goal to open the third quarter. There were two pivotal plays on the drive, a Buccaneer personal foul before a third and seven and a 20-yard pass by wide receiver Scooter Johnson to running back Ern Mills after a lateral from Simmons.
On the ensuing drive, ETSU tied the game at 13 on an eight-yard play-action pass from Meadows to senior fullback Nick Spearman (Summerville, S.C.) with 3:28 left in the third quarter. Varner rushed four times for 21 yards on the drive, but the most important play was a 51-yard strike from Meadows to sophomore wideout Frank Green (Moncks Corner, S.C.).
Although they only scored three points in the fourth, East Tennessee State dominated the final quarter of play. The Citadel held the ball for 4:08 in the fourth, gaining 17 yards on only nine plays. The Bucs, on the other hand, gained 124 yards on 23 plays, holding the ball for 10:52.
The Citadel defense did their best to keep the Bucs off the board, causing what could have been a key turnover as the Bucs were looking to score midway through the fourth. After Meadows had led a 13-play, 50-yard drive down to The Citadel's 11, Bulldog defensive lineman Antwuan Hill forced Meadows to fumble on another draw play, and the ball was recovered by Hill at the seven.
But the Bucs got the ball back on their own 12 with 4:24 remaining on the clock, and turned to Meadows and Varner to pull out the victory. Varner carried the ball seven times for 31 yards on the drive, and Meadows connected with sophomore wideout Brian Matthews (Georgetown, S.C.) on a 51-yard pass that set up Godfrey's 22-yard attempt. When the kick split the uprights, pandemonium ensued, but The Citadel still had a chance at a kick return with two seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs attempted to lateral the ball, but it was fumbled and nearly returned for a touchdown by sophomore fullback Andre Brooks (Greenville, S.C.). Brooks returned the ball 22 yards before being dragged down from behind at the two-yard line.
Varner had a sensational day for the Bucs, tying a career-high with 37 carries and his 197 yards on the ground ties him for seventh in ETSU history for most single-game rushing yards. With 1,199 yards on the season, Varner finishes third on the Buccaneer single-season rushing list.
Mills led the Bulldogs with 42 yards on 16 carries, as the Bucs held The Citadel to just 53 yards on the ground on 28 carries.
"Ern (Mills) ran well, but over the last few weeks, we have struggled at the line," said Johnson following the game.
Meadows had a strong day, completing 11-of-21 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 24 yards on five carries and another score. Simmons also played well for The Citadel, connecting on 22-of-37 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown, but throwing two interceptions.
Green had a career-high 71 receiving yards on two catches for the Bucs, while he, Matthews, Varner and senior tight end Randy Grubb (Pulaski, Va.) each caught two passes in the win. Anderson had a game-high six catches for the Bulldogs while Bud Pough hauled in five passes for 70 yards. ETSU held The Citadel's leading receiver, Johnson, to just eight yards on one reception.
Senior linebacker Matt Palmer (Summerton, S.C.) concluded his stellar season, leading ETSU with 10 tackles. He added three tackles for loss, running his SoCon leading and Buccaneer record TFL total to 25.5. Senior linebacker Tate Pittman (Mechanicsville, Va.), junior safety Gerald Sensabaugh (Kingsport, Tenn.), junior cornerback Allen Davis (Mullins, S.C.) and sophomore cornerback Jeff Mitchell (Knoxville, Tenn.) tied for second on the team with six tackles on the afternoon. Senior nose tackle Brandon Calton (Pennington Gap, Va.) had five tackles on the day, two for losses.
Bulldog linebacker James Greene had an excellent game, turning in a game-high 13 tackles, 12 solos. Travis Hodge and Jeff Townsend each had 10 tackles for The Citadel.
When asked how he felt about today's victory, ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton turned the focus toward the Buccaneer players, past and present.
"This is all about those guys in the locker room," Hamilton commented. "I wanted to see smiles on their faces today. Also, the guys that wore this ETSU uniform that played here in the past mean a lot to me. I want them to see today's score and feel proud."