That’s something that hadn’t been seen in almost two months, but a 38-33 victory over Mercer on Saturday changed the atmosphere in Greene Stadium.
ETSU made some mistakes that gave Mercer a chance — especially three third-quarter turnovers — but with the game on the line, the offense got the job done in a big way.
After Tyray Devezin scored his fourth touchdown to cut the Bucs’ lead to 38-33, Holmes and the offensive line went to work. He plowed his way to 59 of his school-record 255 yards on the final drive and Mercer never saw the ball again.
“We just had a downhill mentality,” said Holmes, who had three touchdowns. “We were basically in our goal-line offense and we’re just going to impose our will on them. We just want to have a physical mentality.”
It was a sight to see, this ETSU team imposing its will. The offensive line was moving people and Holmes was running defenders over. He broke the school record with his last carry, a 21-yard pickup that iced the victory. He flexed his muscles after the final dagger, something not usually seen from the low-key Holmes.
The Bucs went into the game on a six-game losing streak and had one last chance to get their first Southern Conference win.
“Really just to come out with a win,” Holmes said. “It was great to do it in this fashion, to be able to run the ball, record-breaking, but we got a conference win. This was our last chance to get it. We got a win for these seniors. Now they got a good memory to think about.”
Coach Randy Sanders was especially happy for the seniors. After joking that he’d be happy to get rid of some of them, Sanders got serious.
“I’m happy for them that they got a win in Greene Stadium the last time they put the pads on (there),” he said. “I tell the team every time they go out and play, they’re making a memory. Any time you win your last game in your home stadium, that’s a memory you try to remember and you will remember.”
ETSU safety Artevius Smith, who is in the midst of an all-conference season, had his SoCon-leading fifth interception and walked off the field at Greene Stadium for the final time as a winner.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Smith said. “I’m just going to cherish this moment. I thank God he put me in this position.”
Holmes got the day started with runs of 74 and 64 yards on ETSU’s first two possessions.
“We really set the tone early with our running game and that’s what I was most proud of,” Holmes said.
On both long runs, Holmes appeared on his way to touchdowns, only to get caught before he could score.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time I want to do what I can to set our team up for success,” he said. “Of course I want to score, but if I don’t, at least we have some momentum going and hopefully we can punch it in.”
Freshman quarterback Tyler Riddell relieved Trey Mitchell and threw his first touchdown pass, a 27-yarder to Keith Coffee right before halftime. In his most extensive playing time, Riddell completed 8 of 12 passes for 116 yards. He also ran for 25 yards on five carries.
Riddell has appeared in three games so he can play next week and still be redshirted.
“I thought he had some true freshman moments, but I also thought he played pretty well,” Sanders said. “It’s a whole lot easier to play quarterback when you run for 410 yards. But the guy was still 8- for-12. I thought he did some good things. For the most part he was accurate when he threw it.
“He’s still a freshman. He does some freshman things. But just being able to pull the ball down and do some things with his legs provides a little spark for us.”
A joke around the Bucs’ camp says the team might lead the nation in field-goal defense.
For some reason or another, ETSU opponents have missed 10 of 17 field-goal attempts. Included in that tally was Mercer’s Caleb Dowden, who missed one from 38 yards out in the third quarter.
ETSU closes the season at Vanderbilt on Saturday. The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and is being televised by the SEC Network.