With a capacity crowd of 8,217 in attendance, East Tennessee State football ended a 12-year absence with an emotional return to the gridiron Thursday night at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the final score did not reflect the triumphant nature of the evening.
The passionate and boisterous gathering of ETSU fans watched their young team play an inspired first half, only to see an avalanche of big plays in the second half lead to a 56-16 loss to Kennesaw State. The Owls (1-0) enjoyed a victory in the opening game of their inaugural season, while the Bucs (0-1) played for the first time since the 2003 season.
ETSU actually led the game 13-7 with 6:42 left before the intermission, but KSU finished the first half with 14 unanswered points. The Owls kept up the offensive onslaught and then outscored the Bucs 35-3 the rest of the way.
Kennesaw State finished with 416 rushing yards and outgained the Bucs 512 to 328 in total offense on the evening.
On a night of historic firsts, it was the Buccaneers who struck first on the scoreboard when JJ Jerman(Seymour, Tenn.) was true on a 36-yard field goal with 6:12 left in the first quarter to make it 3-0. Jerman went on to kick three field goals on the night, tying for the third-most field goals in ETSU single-game history..
The ensuing kickoff resulted in what appeared to be a touchdown return, but KSU was flagged for holding. Despite being brought back to the 16-yard line, the Owls put together a 14 play drive that totaled 84 yards and ended with a 6-yard scoring run by quarterback Trey White to make it 7-3.
Another 31-yard field goal by Jerman moved it to 7-6, and on their next drive the Owls fumbled the snap on a punt attempt, setting up the Bucs on the 50-yard line. That ETSU drive finished with a 12-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman Jajuan Stinson(Knoxville, Tenn.), making it 13-7 in favor of the Bucs with 6:42 left in the first half.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the remainder of the half belonged to the Owls. First, White led a 54-yard drive that appeared to have ended when he fumbled at the 1-yard line, but KSU tailback Jae Bowen picked up the loose ball and rushed in for the score. Now trailing 14-13, the Bucs’ next possession ended with a disaster. Quarterback Nick Sexton (Seymour, Tenn.) attempted a screen pass from deep in ETSU territory which was intercepted by KSU defensive lineman Nick Perrotta and returned for a score, making it 21-13 at the break.
In the second half, KSU dominated from the kick, outscoring the Bucs 21-0 in the third quarter and 14-3 in the fourth quarter.
ETSU will return to action next Thursday night at home, hosting Maryville at 7:30 p.m. inside Kermit Tipton Stadium.