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Buccaneer defense shines, but Western Carolina holds on for 28-21 victory
Saturday, September 27, 2003JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Sept. 27, 2003) - The East Tennessee State defense forced five turnovers and scored two touchdowns but the Buccaneer offense was held to just 76 total yards by the Western Carolina defensive unit as the Catamounts held on for a 28-21 victory in a wild game Saturday afternoon from Memorial Center in Johnson City, Tenn. The Buccaneers stumbled out of the gate as two early miscues by ETSU (2-3, 0-2 Southern Conference) led to a 14-0 lead for Western Carolina (3-2, 2-0 SoCon) early in the first quarter. Following a fumbled punt gave WCU the ball on the ETSU seven, Catamount quarterback Brian Gaither scored the game's first touchdown with 11:59 remaining in the first quarter. Just over a minute and a half later, running back John Bush blocked a Buccaneer punt at the ETSU two-yard line and it was picked out of the air by wide receiver T. Alford, who ran it into the end zone. Trying to get back into the game, the Buccaneers embarked on a 17-play, 78-yard drive that took 7:19. The drive was aided by five Catamount penalties, including a five-yard encroachment flag as the Buccaneers were attempting to punt. Senior running back Gaven Varner (Summerville, S.C.) capped the drive with four consecutive rushes, including the final run that he punched into the end zone from one yard out for his third rushing touchdown of the season. Western Carolina came right back on their next drive, putting another touchdown on the board to make the score 20-7. The Cats got into the end zone following a nine-play 67-yard drive that featured two big plays by Gaither. On two third and long plays, he completed a pass to Lamont Seward for 35 yards and one to Brian Rucker for 23 yards. Gaither then tossed his first touchdown pass of the day as he found Michael Reeder for a four-yard score. ETSU senior nose tackle Brandon Calton (Pennington Gap, Va.) would block the extra-point attempt. East Tennessee State closed the gap to 20-14, as the Bucs scored on an interesting play late in the first half. After another long drive by the Catamounts, WCU set up for a field goal from the ETSU six-yard line with 1:04 left in the second quarter. Senior linebacker Scott Brumett (Pioneer, Tenn.) broke through the line and blocked the attempt. The ball rolled to the five-yard line, but it was still a live ball as junior safety Gerald Sensabaugh (Kingsport, Tenn.) scooped it up and raced 95 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. After an ETSU three and out on their first possession of the second half, Western Carolina began another sustained drive that resulted in a touchdown. Gaither again completed some clutch passes on the drive, including a six-yard strike to Seward on fourth and four and a beautiful pass across his body to Seward for 18 yards down to the one. From there, Bush scored on a one-yard run, and Alford ran for the two-point conversion. Late in the third quarter, the Buccaneer defense again made a memorable play that got the Bucs right back in the ball game. With just five second left in the third, senior All-America cornerback Tony Tiller (Lithonia, Ga.) stepped in front of a Gaither pass for his first interception of the season, but as he came down the ball was stripped by Seward. Senior safety Montreal Harkley (Hanahan, S.C.) was in the right place at the right time, as he scooped the ball up in stride and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown. But that was all of the scoring the Bucs could muster, as the Catamount offense controlled the clock in the fourth quarter. ETSU redshirt freshman quarterback Carl Meadows (Cumming, Ga.) had a tough afternoon, completing just three-of-19 passes for 20 yards. Varner, who came into the afternoon leading the SoCon in rushing, also struggled, with 26 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Sophomore tight end Justin Cruze (Knoxville, Tenn.) led the Bucs in receiving yards with 19 yards on one reception. It was a strong day for the Catamount offense, as Gaither and Seward both made their mark in the Catamount record book. Gaither completed 22-of-32 passed for 281 yards and a touchdown, moving to ninth on the WCU career passing yardage list. Seward hauled in 12 passes for 176 yards, his ninth-career 100-yard effort and the 12th best yardage mark in WCU history. He has caught a pass in 32 consecutive games and he moves to seventh on the WCU career receptions list (147). His 12 receptions is also the second-most in Catamount history. Redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Cullen (Roswell, Ga.) also threatened an ETSU record as he had an incredible 20 tackles in the loss. His performance is just two tackles behind the Buccaneer record holder, Nakia Thomas, who had 22 tackles against Appalachian State in 1993. Other defensive standouts for the Bucs include Tiller, who had two interceptions, Harkley, who tallied 12 tackles, two for a loss, and senior linebackers Matt Palmer (Summerton, S.C.) and Mike Cornegay (Fayetteville, N.C.) who each had 11 tackles. Albert Reid and rod Dunlap tied for the Catamount lead with six tackles. Reid also had four tackles for a loss and two pass breakups. The Bucs return to action next on Oct. 4 at 3:30 against rival Appalachian State in a game televised by The Football Network. For coverage information, visit www.footballnetwork.com. Western Carolina returns to the gridiron on Saturday as well, as they return home to host Furman at 6 p.m. from Cullowhee, N.C. Click HERE for a boxscore from today's game.
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