Of course, when you manage to win three close games in a row, the process gets sped up — and so does the fun.
“We need to keep trying to improve each day because good football teams are ones that continue to get better throughout the season,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “It’s all a process with these guys. We’re somewhat in new territory with them. They’re eager, they’re hungry, they want to do well and we have to try to show them how to do well.”
The Bucs’ next chance to learn — and to win — comes Saturday when Gardner-Webb invades Greene Stadium for the homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
ETSU (4-1) is on the verge of cracking the Top 25, and a win could put the Bucs into the national rankings for the first time since 1999.
Suddenly, a program that had been rebuilding from scratch for three seasons is playing meaningful games midway through the season. If the victories continue to mount, the games will become even more important.
“It becomes harder and harder to win, so you have to learn to prepare,” Sanders said. “You have to learn how to work for it. It’s new for a lot of them.”
Gardner-Webb (1-4) was one of the many teams that showed ETSU how far it had to go as a program three years ago with a 28-3 thrashing of the Bucs in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.
“They did pretty much whatever they wanted against us,” ETSU quarterback Austin Herink said. “If we don’t come out focused — we’re not to the point where we can just roll out there and can someone right now. They’re a really good opponent and we definitely respect them.”
Herink will be making his second start since his heroic relief effort against Furman led to a 29-27 victory. He led the Bucs to a 17-14 victory over Chattanooga last week.
It’s been quite a turnaround for the lefty who had been ETSU’s only starting quarterback in the three years since football was brought back until losing his job to Logan Marchi in the preseason.
“Austin was very disappointed when I named Logan starter,” Sanders said. “I would have been disappointed had he not been upset about it, but he didn’t let his emotions show. He didn’t let it affect what he was trying to do on the team. That’s what a mature guy has to do. That’s what a true team guy has to do. It’s OK to be upset. You can’t take your frustrations out in the locker room or you can’t become a negative guy whether it’s in the locker room or on social media.”
QUITE A PLAYER
ETSU defensive lineman Nasir Player was the SoCon’s defensive player of the week for his performance against Chattanooga when he had 2½ sacks and caused two game-changing fumbles.
Player faces double-teams more often than not and still ranks second in the league with five sacks.
It was a September to remember for ETSU’s Jared Folks, a senior linebacker who was chosen the SoCon’s defensive player of the month.
Folks had 37 tackles — 6.5 for loss — along with 4½ sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and six hurries. He had at least seven tackles in every game.
DEFENSE NEVER RESTS
ETSU leads the Football Championship Subdivision in tackles for loss (9.8 per game) while ranking third in sacks (4.0 per game) and fourth in rushing defense (72.8 yards per game).
The ETSU basketball team will hold an open practice at 11:30 a.m. at the Basler Center for Physical Activity. The workout, the public’s first chance to see Steve Forbes’ squad, is scheduled to end around 12:30 p.m. to allow fans time to get to the Buc Walk, which starts at 1:15.
The Bucs hit the road again on Oct. 13 when they travel to Charleston, South Carolina, to take on The Citadel for a Southern Conference game.