JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – ETSU appeared to find a recipe for success against Samford on Saturday, as the two teams went into the halftime locker room tied, 21-21.

Starting quarterback Tyler Riddell made his return to the lineup, and despite an early interception, had the squad within striking distance for the first 30 minutes.

The Blue and Gold scored just seven points in the second half, however, in a 42-28 defeat to the Bulldogs. Riddell struggled a bit in his return, completing 9-of-23 passes for 118 yards.

“He had some rust,” head coach George Quarles said Monday. “He just missed some things, not necessarily arm-wise, but just seeing it.”

“Now, he made some plays … in the last part of the first half,” he continued. “Made some throws and we dropped a couple. But, he’s got to be better.”

The running back room gave the Bucs a boost on Saturday, as the team ran for 224 yards on 33 carries. Junior Bryson Irby tallied 126 yards and three touchdowns in a performance that drew praise from Quarles.

“I was really happy for Bryson – he practiced extremely well last week,” he said. “Bryson’s a talented guy and does some really good things.”

“I feel like my role going forward is that I should maybe press the holes a little bit harder, rely on my linemen and just go with the play, I guess,” Irby told reporters on Monday.

Quarles realizes, however, that the offense will need to be more balanced going forward, in order to have the success it wants.

“Clearly people are going to make us prove that we can throw the ball,” he said. “They’re gonna pile them up in there and so you’re not going to run – you’re going to have to throw it. That ought to be opportunities for other guys to make plays.”

The head coach also understands that defensive secondary will need to come along, as the under-manned cornerback group continues to be tested. Quarles said the team has just three healthy corners at this point.

Sheldon Arnold II has a banner day, collecting SoCon Defensive Player of the Week honors for his two interceptions and fumble recovery. But, the Bucs still allowed 399 passing yards to Samford in the loss.

“It can be frustrating, but at the end of the day we’ve just got to stick together,” linebacker Zach West said. “We can’t start pointing fingers at the DB’s or anybody else, you know. We win together, we lose together. So, we try and pick them up and make sure they know we believe in them and play the next play.”

The defense will have the task of stopping Mercer’s Wing-T look this Saturday. Homecoming kickoff in Johnson City is slated for 3:30 p.m.