First-year ETSU head coach George Quarles earned a convincing win in his first game at the helm, as the No. 11 Buccaneers dominated all phases en route to a 44-7 victory over Mars Hill in front of a sellout crowd of 9,701 fans in William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium on Thursday night.
The Bucs are now 6-0 in home openers since opening Greene Stadium in 2017, including two wins over Mars Hill and single wins over Limestone, Shorter, Samford and UVA Wise. ETSU has also won three straight season-openers.
The Southern Conference Offensive Preseason Player of the Year, Jacob Saylors (Jasper, Tenn.), lived up to the hype with two rushing touchdowns and a 29-yard touchdown reception – all in the first quarter – to propel the offense early. He finished with 92 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in his 2022 debut.
Meanwhile, the defense shined with a near-shutout of the Lions and three forced turnovers, including a pick-six by Alijah Huzzie (Franklin, Ga.). Alijah was also key on special teams with a team-high 106 all-purpose yards on returns.
Meanwhile, Alijah’s cousin, Will Huzzie (Duluth, Ga.), led the receiving corps with five catches for 67 yards and two scores.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
ETSU 6, Mars Hill 0: ETSU answered first courtesy of a 40-yard run by Jacob Saylors down the Mars Hill sideline, capping an 8-play, 70-score, taking just over three minutes off the clock. Unfortunately, a botched snap resulted in a missed extra-point and the Bucs lead, 6-0, five minutes in.
ETSU 13, Mars Hill 0: Following a quick three-and-out on its next possession, ETSU was forced to punt and the Lions muffed the kick by Trace Kelley (Gallatin, Tenn.) and Zach West (Boone, N.C.) recovered, resulting in a short field for the Bucs. On the first play following the Mars Hill turnover, it was again Saylors who scored when he hauled in a 29-yard reception from Tyler Riddell (Tampa, Fla.). With five minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the Blue and Gold led, 13-0.
ETSU 20, Mars Hill 0: The first-quarter Buccaneer blitzkrieg continued – and again – ETSU called upon the Southern Conference Offensive Preseason Player of the Year, Jacob Saylors. The Bucs’ special teams again put ETSU in prime scoring position when Alijah Huzzie ripped off a career-long 62-yard punt return, giving the Blue and Gold a 1st-and-goal opportunity at the Mars Hill 2-yard line. Saylors scored on a 1-yard run for his third touchdown of the frame with 3:01 remaining in the quarter.
ETSU 27, Mars Hill 0: After scoring 20 points in the first 12-minutes of the first quarter, it took the Bucs 10 minutes into the second to find paydirt as Will Huzzie leapt over the Lion defensive back for a potential SportsCenter Top 10 play, extending ETSU’s lead to 27-0 with 5:10 remaining before halftime.
ETSU 34, Mars Hill 0: The Huzzie & Huzzie show continued as Alijah perfectly read a pass from Jimmy Urzua and took it 38 yards to the house, marking the Bucs’ first pick-six since Nov. 24, 2018 when Titus Tucker had a 60-yard score at Jacksonville State in the first round of the FCS Playoffs. The score came 14 seconds after Will’s spectacular play, putting the Blue and Gold up by 34 with just under five minutes left before intermission.
ETSU 41, Mars Hill 0: On the Bucs’ second possession of the second half, ETSU went 58 yards on seven plays and scored on a 26-yard touchdown reception by Will Huzzie on 3rd-and-7. The score marked Huzzie’s first career game with multiple touchdown receptions.
ETSU 41, Mars Hill 7: The shutout bid was snapped as Mars Hill went on a 5-play, 54-yard scoring drive, finishing with a 5-yard touchdown reception by Ty Snelson on 3rd-and-4, putting the Lions on the board for the first time with 3:23 left in the quarter.
ETSU 44, Mars Hill 7: ETSU responded on its ensuing possession when Tyler Keltner (Tallahassee, Fla.) drilled a 44-yard field goal for his 40th career make. The Bucs led by 37 with 2:08 left in the third.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Coach Quarles became the 12th ETSU head coach in program history to win his Buccaneer debut – joining the ranks of Randy Sanders (also against Mars Hill on Sept. 1, 2018), Paul Hamilton, Mike Cavan, John Robert Bell, Star Wood, Hal Littleford, L.T. Roberts, Gene McMurray and J.K. Luck.
The Buccaneers opened their 88th season in program history on Thursday … In the 88 openers, ETSU has gone 44-41-3 … The Blue and Gold defeated Vanderbilt 23-3 in last year’s season opener and are 6-2 in season openers since restarting the program in 2015, including being 6-0 in home openers inside Greene Stadium
ETSU is 22-7 (.759) overall inside Greene Stadium since the stadium was built in 2017 … Last year, the Bucs went a perfect 7-0 at home
Thursday’s attendance was 9,701, marking the 20th sellout in the history of Greene Stadium (29 games played)
The Bucs also moved to 9-1 in night games inside Greene Stadium
Both teams totaled 16 first downs on the night, while ETSU ran 62 total plays for 304 yards of total offense, compared to Mars Hill running 70 plays with 262 yards of total offense … The Bucs held Mars Hill to 18 rushing yards, while ETSU rushed for 107 yards and threw for 197
Tyler Riddell was 14-for-19 with three touchdowns and one interception
The Buccaneers were plus-2 in takeaways (two interceptions, one fumble recovery) and outscored the Lions, 21-0 in points off turnovers
The Bucs scored 34 first-half points thanks to having a starting field position of their own 49-yard line
Both teams combined to go 7-for-19 on third down with ETSU going 4-of-13 and Mars Hill was held to 3-of-16
The Lions sacked Riddell four times on the night with ETSU’s defense generating three sacks – Chandler Martin (Lithonia, Ga.) and Trevor Thompson (Vinton, Va.) posting solo sacks and Deven Brantley (Riverdale, Ga.) and Jalen Porter (Gallatin, Tenn.) combining for the other
ETSU’s defense held Mars Hill to negative-3 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first half
Trace Kelley made his collegiate debut as he averaged 45.8 yards per punt, including a long of 52 yards and pinned the Lions inside the 20 twice
On the return game, ETSU averaged 25 yards per kickoff return and 22.7 yards per punt return … Mars Hill didn’t record a kickoff return and posted negative-2 yards on two punt returns
To go with his 106 all-purpose yards, Alijah Huzzie totaled six tackles, while Chandler Martin led the team with seven hits
ETSU begins defense of its SoCon title next Saturday when the Bucs travel to Charleston, S.C., to take on The Citadel. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. inside Johnson Hagood Memorial Stadium.