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ETSU looks to eliminate mistakes, get back on winning track

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ETSU vs North Dakota State

ETSU running back Jacob Saylors and the Buccaneers will look to snap a two-game losing skid on Saturday in a non-conference affair at Robert Morris.

Two straight Southern Conference losses have put East Tennessee State in a gigantic hole.

ETSU junior receiver Einaj Carter echoes the sentiments of first-year head coach George Quarles, who feels like the Buccaneers are close to being 3-0 and not 1-2.

“If you watch the film, we’re a couple of plays away from being 3-0,” said Carter, who scored both of ETSU’s touchdowns on Tyler Riddell passes in a 27-14 home loss to Furman last Saturday. “You don’t really want to say that and look in the past, but it’s true. When you look at the film, we’re just a couple of mistakes away. We hurt ourselves a lot and I truly believe we are right there.”

ETSU (1-2, 0-2) will try to turn it around on Saturday with a visit to Robert Morris, an FCS Northeast Conference school located in Township, Pa. The Colonials (0-2) are looking for their first win, having lost to Dayton (22-20) and Miami (Ohio) (31-14).

These clubs have met twice before, with the Bucs winning in Johnson City 16-3 in 2017. The Colonials won at home 21-9 in 2015, the first year ETSU brought its program back from extinction.

“I think the worst thing we could do would be to blow everything up and start over,” Quarles said. “I really do think we’re a couple of plays away from everybody being here talking about a 3-0 team and how exciting things are – but that’s not the case.

“We just keep reminding (the players) that we’re a couple of plays away. We’ve got to finish and execute. We have to do the things we are coached to do to get to where we want to get to.”

Turnovers have been a definite issue for the Buccaneers, which lost three fumbles and an interception against Furman, which held off a late charge by picking off a Riddell pass and converting that into a touchdown in the final minute of last week’s game.

ETSU started its final drive at its own 20 with 2:08 left, but lost nine yards on four plays, with Riddell picked off on fourth down.

“That first first-down is the hardest thing to get going,” Quarles said. “Maybe we were a little greedy on that first play because we could have checked it down and got a little something going there. We had all three timeouts and saved those a bit…and of course they popped the run which made the score look worse than it was.”

There is no secret what the Colonials want to do. Robert Morris has accumulated 545 yards in two games, and only 70 of those on the ground. That will keep defensive back Quinn Smith and his mates busy in the secondary.

“We definitely love when they throw the ball,” said Smith, who had eight tackles and a pass breakup against Furman. “I think it fits more into our defensive scheme, especially because our run defense is really good. But yes, I’m a DB so I love the pass.”

Carter is a first-year transfer at ETSU who loves to catch passes. He led Savannah State in receiving last season, catching just 12 passes for 267 yards and five scores. He already has seven receptions this year for the Bucs, averaging 18.0 yards per catch, including scoring passes last week from 75 and 11 yards.

The junior from Poughkeepsie, New York certainly enjoyed getting into the end zone twice week for the Buccaneers.

“It was great. I told Tyler to just trust me, and I trust him,” Carter said. “I was in the transfer portal so I didn’t really get to go through spring ball, so this is my first time playing ball since last fall, so that felt good.”

ETSU faces a must-win SoCon game next Saturday with league favorite against Chattanooga, which has risen into the Top-10 in both major FCS football polls.

First, the Bucs must prepare for the Colonials, while looking for answers after a pair of defeats.

“I just feel like we got to trust each other and keep the good energy and good vibes around the locker room and outside the locker room – building team chemistry,” Smith said.

That, and cutting down on the mistakes. Six turnovers in three games isn’t a good trend.

“We’re our own worst enemy right now,” Quarles said. “Furman’s a good football team and they do a lot of good things, but I still say if we do what we are supposed to do and eliminate some mistakes, we are winning that game.

“Nobody wants to hear this – and I hate saying it – but it’s a fact that we’re just a couple of plays away from being 3-0 and not 1-2. But we are what our record says we are and what the film says we are.”

bwoodson@bristolnews.com — Twitter: BHCWoodson (276) 645-2543

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