ETSU held Gardner-Webb in check all day in a 45-0 homecoming rout Saturday at Greene Stadium for its first shutout since the school brought football back four years ago.
“It was very satisfying, first off, just to get a win,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “The fact that we got the shutout was very nice. I’m excited for the defense.”
Quay Holmes rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns and Jacob Saylors added 101 yards and two scores for the Bucs (5-1), off to their best start since 1999. They also surpassed their win total from last season.
“It feels great for everybody,” said Holmes, who has eight rushing touchdowns this season, the total amount the team had last year. “My mentality is I want to make history this year.”
Holmes scored on runs of 2, 11 and 10 yards. Saylors’ touchdowns were 1 and 37 yards. Matt Thompson added a 5-yard TD run.
Meanwhile, the top rushing defense in the Southern Conference held the Bulldogs (1-5) to 59 yards on 29 carries. It was ETSU’s first shutout since a 44-0 win over Concord on Sept. 4, 2003.
“The defense has played great all year,” Sanders said. “I said it from Day 1, we’re going to have to rely on our defense early. It was good to see the defense get that shutout and get rewarded.”
The Bucs stopped the Bulldogs on fourth down twice, picked off two passes — by Tyree Robinson and Titus Tucker — and recovered a fumble.
ETSU’s shutout held when Gardner-Webb’s Tre’ Jackson missed a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
“It’s exciting,” said Bucs linebacker Dylan Weigel, who was on the ETSU team that lost 28-3 to Gardner-Webb three years ago. “It was a great team effort. Everybody has to do their job to get a shutout.”
Weigel had seven tackles, tying Jeremy Lewis for the team lead. Three of Weigel’s hits were for losses and he had one of the Bucs’ five sacks.
Jared Folks, the Southern Conference defensive player of the month, had two sacks. Jason Maduafokwa and Colton Lakes had the other sacks.
ETSU’s JJ Jerman kicked a 28-yard field goal in the second quarter.
“I’m excited to be 5-1, but we’re still a work in progress,” Sanders said. “I thought that we got better today.”
CHANGE IN MOMENTUM
With ETSU ahead 17-0 in the third quarter, Gardner-Webb quarterback Jacob Smith was sandwiched by Maduafokwa and Zack Yancey and lost the ball.
Karon Delince recovered the fumble for the Bucs and, one play later, Saylors took off on his 37-yard touchdown run.
Bucs receiver Keith Coffee made the block of the year, screening off Gardner-Webb’s A.J. Keene at the 5-yard line for what seemed like an eternity while the speedy Saylors cruised into the end zone for his first collegiate touchdown.
NO HAIL MARY
On the final play of the first half, Bucs quarterback Austin Herink dropped back and lofted a towering pass toward the right corner of the end zone.
Ari Werts, a transfer from Georgia State, found himself in a crowd but just open enough as the ball arrived.
Instead of a touchdown, though, the ball went through Werts’ hands and fell harmlessly to the ground.
“I thought we had a great chance to make a play right there,” Sanders said. “Any time you make a play like that at halftime, it creates a huge amount of momentum.
“I’ve been a part of three of those right before half and I’ve never lost a game when you hit it. I was disappointed we didn’t.”
Logan Marchi played the entire fourth quarter after coming on in relief of Herink, who left with a comfortable 31-0 lead.
Herink completed 17 of 24 passes for 184 yards. He didn’t throw an interception or a touchdown.
Marchi, who finished 4-for-5 for 60 yards, led the team on scoring drives that ended in Thompson’s touchdown run and Saylors’ second score.
Marchi’s one incompletion was a drop on an on-target throw.
The Bucs gained 217 yards on the ground and 244 through the air. Through three quarters, they had gained exactly 184 yards each way.
The attendance was 8,501, the seventh sellout in 10 games in the brief history of Greene Stadium.
ETSU travels to Charleston, S.C., next Saturday to face The Citadel in a Southern Conference game.
Gardner-Webb opens Big South Conference play with a home game against Kennesaw State.