The Buccaneers are back in the win column.
Highlighted by three rushing touchdowns from Jacob Saylors (Jasper, Tenn.), four defensive takeaways – including an 86-yard fumble return by Rodney Wright (Athens, Ga.) – and three 40-plus yard field goals by Tyler Keltner (Tallahassee, Fla.), the ETSU football team defeated VMI, 44-21, on Saturday afternoon inside Foster Stadium.
Saylors, who tied a career high with the three rushing scores, totaled 220 all-purpose yards – 178 rushing, 20 kickoff return and 22 receiving. Keltner totaled 14 points with his three field goals and five extra-points, moving him into third all-time on the Buccaneer scoring list with 258. Wright’s 86-yard return was his first collegiate touchdown and the second-longest fumble return in Buccaneer in program history as Daren Ardis (2016, vs. Chattanooga) and Charles Stein (1978 vs. Appalachian State) had 87-yard returns.
As a team, ETSU finished with 416 yards of total offense as the Bucs rushed for 237 yards and passed for 179. Tyler Riddell (Tampa, Fla.) and Baron May (New Philadelphia, Ohio) split time at quarterback on Saturday with Riddell going 11-of-18 for 126 yards and one touchdown. May was 5-of-7 for 53 yards and had 19 rushing yards on four carries. To go with its four turnovers, the Buccaneer defense held VMI to 338 yards of total offense (215 passing/123 rushing).
With the win, ETSU improved to 3-3 on the season and 1-3 in SoCon play, while VMI dipped to 1-4, 0-2.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
VMI 7, ETSU 0: After the Bucs had a three-and-out on their first series, VMI scored on its opening drive as the Keydets went 70 yards on 11 plays and scored on a 12-yard run, taking the early lead with 11:01 left in the quarter.
ETSU 7, VMI 7: ETSU quickly answered VMI’s scoring drive as the Bucs went 75 yards on four plays in less than two minutes as Saylors bounced outside for his 48-yard run. Following Tyler Keltner’s 110th straight made extra-point, the game was tied at 7-7 with 9:21 left in the quarter.
ETSU 14, VMI 7: The Buccaneer defense stepped up and delivered a big play when Alijah Huzzie (Franklin, Ga.) picked off Seth Morgan and returned it 40 yards, setting up ETSU’s offense right outside the red zone. Jacob Saylors made quick work off the turnover as he scored on the Bucs’ first play following the pick – ripping off a 23-yard run – and the Blue and Gold took their first lead of the day with 2:21 remaining in the opening quarter.
ETSU 17, VMI 7: ETSU continued putting points on the board as the Bucs used a 10-play, 53-yard drive to connect on a 44-yard field goal by Keltner, giving the Blue and Gold a 10-point lead with 11:03 showing on the clock.
ETSU 20, VMI 7: Keltner wasn’t done showing off his big leg as ETSU regained possession after Mike Price (Stockbridge, Ga.) tipped a pass and Erek Campbell (Memphis, Tenn.) came down with the Bucs’ second interception of the day. After going 14 yards in six plays, Keltner came through with a season-long 48-yard field goal to extend ETSU’s lead with 6:36 left before halftime.
ETSU 27, VMI 7: ETSU put the exclamation point on the half when Tyler Riddell connected on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Einaj Carter (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.), capping a 9-play, 76-yard drive. The play came on a 3rd-and-5 where the Bucs were 4-of-8 on third down opportunities in the first half.
ETSU 27, VMI 14: Just like they did in the first half, VMI scored on its opening possession of the second half as they used five plays to go 75 yards, ending with a 21-yard touchdown reception by Seth Morgan to Leroy Thomas.
ETSU 34, VMI 14: Following a missed 51-yard field goal by VMI, the Blue and Gold got on the board for the first time in the second half when ETSU went 66 yards in 10 plays with Saylors finding pay dirt for the third time, courtesy of 6-yard scamper. Baron May had a 19-yard run and Saylors followed that up with a 17-yard burst, moving the Bucs past midfield. From there, six of the next seven plays went for runs and the Bucs scored their fourth touchdown of the afternoon with 35 seconds remaining in the quarter.
ETSU 34, VMI 21: VMI opened the final quarter with a 13-play, 74-yard drive, resulting in 10-yard rushing touchdown by Thomas.
ETSU 37, VMI 21: On ETSU’s ensuing possession, the Bucs’ drive started with three straight runs – and after an incomplete pass on a 2nd-and-7 – Riddell came back on the field and hit Will Huzzie (Duluth, Ga.) for a 14-yard strike to the ETSU 44-yard line. Following the pass, Saylors posted a 12-yard run, and after the Bucs were unable to pick up another first down, Keltner split the uprights from 41 yards, giving ETSU a 16-point cushion with just over six minutes left.
ETSU 44, VMI 21: Rodney Wright put the icing on the cake when Di’Andre Davis (Charlotte, N.C.) stripped sacked Seth Morgan and Wright scooped up the loose ball and hustled his way down the sideline for the 86-yard defensive touchdown.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
ETSU has won three straight games over VMI and lead the all-time series, 18-10 … The 44 points scored on Saturday tied the most in the series as the Blue and Gold also scored 44 in 1998
Saturday marked Coach Quarles’ first career Southern Conference victory
The teams combined for 152 total plays with ETSU running 71 plays and the Keydets posting 81 … The Bucs averaged 5.9 yards per play, compared to VMI averaging 4.2 yards
The Bucs’ 237 rushing yards were their second-most this season with the 290 yards at Robert Morris being a season high
ETSU had season-high 46 rushing attempts, marking the most since the Blue and Gold carried the ball 54 times last Nov. 13 at Western Carolina
Jacob Saylors had a career-high 29 rushing attempts for 178 yards and three touchdowns … The 178 rushing yards marked his third-highest total, while it was Saylor’s 10th career 100-yard rushing game
ETSU’s four takeaways marked as season high as the Bucs converted those miscues into 17 points … The Bucs totaled three interceptions and one fumble recovery … The three interceptions were the most since ETSU finished with three last year in the win over Mercer, while the four takeaways marked the most since coming away with six in the win over VMI back on Sept. 14, 2018 (five interceptions/one fumble recovery)
Alijah Huzzie registered his fourth interception of the season, while Erek Campbell and Quinn Smith (Cincinnati, Ohio) posted their first career picks … Huzzie now has 10 career interceptions
Erek Campbell led the defense with a career-high 11 tackles, while Chandler Martin (Lithonia, Ga.) added nine and Alijah Huzzie and Zach West (Boone, N.C.) each had eight hits
Tyler Keltner now has 258 career points, making him the highest scoring kicker in program history … Keltner passed JJ Jerman for third all-time on the career scoring list … To go with his career-high three made field goals, Keltner now has 48 for his career, which is five shy of tying Jerman for the school record
The Bucs converted on a season-best 47% on third down as ETSU was 7-of-15 … ETSU also won the time of possession 33:08 to 26:52
After leading 27-7 at halftime, the Bucs are now outscoring their opponents 130-30 in the first half this season
NEXT GAME UP
ETSU is back on the road next Saturday when the Bucs travel to Macon, Ga., and face No. 12 Mercer. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at Five Star Stadium.