After the first quarter, Tennessee left no doubt.
The Volunteers shrugged off a slow start and a pesky ETSU squad after a lightning delay to roll to a 59-3 victory over the Buccaneers in Neyland Stadium. It was the first win for Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt as head coach.
“To me, I don’t see this any different than any game I’ve ever coached in,” Pruitt said. “I’m happy we won, and you’ll find out (about me) the more games we win, I’m a little more ticked. There’s a standard we want to play to. Everything wasn’t perfect this week. Everything wasn’t perfect in the last couple of days, and we were trying to get things right. We’re learning from it, and I think it’ll make us a better football team, and it’s going to make us a better football program.”
The Bucs featured three Carter County athletes on the roster with Adam Mullins (Elizabethton), Austin Hicks (Happy Valley) and Asley Haynes (Cloudland).
In the first quarter, Tennessee broke onto the board with a Brett Cimaglia field goal, and a special teams score as Marquill Osborne ran in a blocked punt. That gave the Volunteers a 10-0 advantage going to the second quarter.
“I think you’ve got to give East Tennessee State credit,” Pruitt said of the slow start for the Vols. “I watched them this week; defensively they’re very multiple, they do a good job and they’re sound. They squeeze the ball and disguise very well, so I think it was more them than it was anything else.”
Mother Nature, for the second straight week for Tennessee, decided that the teams needed a break as lightning was detected in the area.
“I think last week was a good lesson for the players, but I don’t think we did a whole lot different from a coaching standpoint,” Pruitt said. “I think our strength staff and support staff created a little more juice when we came on the field. Last week when we got out there, for whatever reason, it was my fault, I didn’t see a lot of that. We have to improve on that. Everything is new for our guys. We get up 45 points, and it’s new for them. How do you act? The expectation shouldn’t change. To me, the scoreboard is still 0-0, and why should the scoreboard affect the way you play? So, there are a lot of lessons for us to learn and we’re new in this program. We’ll learn and keep chugging along.”
Once the teams came back out, Tennessee came out firing on all cylinders.
“Well it did (affect the game), they came out and had a good drive,” ETSU Head Coach Randy Sanders said.”They converted a big third down. They hit a post route, made a couple plays and scored. The first play we had, we threw a ball, it hit off the receivers hands, got intercepted and returned inside the five. Obviously, that gave them a lot of momentum. We get it back, had a guy wide open, probably getting ready to be a pretty big play, the ball the gets tipped up in the air, and they pick it off again and return it for a touchdown. So whenever you have two big momentum swing plays like that, not counting the drive they just had with the post route, that obviously swung momentum big.”
“I was really pleased with the fire that our guys came out with,” Sanders added. “I was proud of the way they responded after that flurry, when we came back out [after the delay], and they scored 28 points. That obviously changed the game huge at that point. I’m proud of the guys. They just kept fighting. I always tell them to just play the next play and play like its zero to zero. I thought our guys kept competing and kept fighting.”
Tennessee scored quickly after play resumed as Jeremy Banks scored on a one-yard run, and then Bryce Thompson intercepted an ETSU pass on the first play of the next ETSU drive. That set up another Banks touchdown to give Tennessee a 24-0 lead.
Darrin Kirkland, Jr. kept the defensive attack fired up with a pick-six on the next Tennessee drive. Dominck Wood-Anderson added a score as the Volunteers held a 38-0 advantage at the half.
From there, it was all Vols.
After Madre London opened the second half scoring for Tennessee, the Bucs got on the board midway through the stanza as JJ Jerman kicked a 39-yard field goal.
Tennessee added a Keller Chryst touchdown pass to Jordan Murphy and a London touchdown in the fourth to account for the final score.
Tim Jordan finished the game with 65 yards rushing to lead the Tennessee rush attack that ran for 190 yards. Banks finished with 62 yards. Jarrett Guarantano was 8-of-13 for 154 yards, while Marquez Callaway and Murphy had 78 and 75 yards receiving, respectively.
Logan Marchi went 11-of-26 for 72 yards for the Bucs, while Jacob Sailors had 41 yards rushing.
“I like what I saw from the defense more than what I saw from the offense for the most part,” Sanders said. “We knew from the offensive standpoint that we had a tall task. Just with where we are and some of our limitations, we knew this was going to be a huge challenge. Tennessee, they have a lot of players who had a lot of choices on where they went to school, and they chose to come here. They are good football players. We knew we were going to have to play well.”