JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Bucs had one last chance for a victory in 2023 inside William B. Greene Jr. Stadium on Saturday – and they grabbed it.
The Blue and Gold sent the seniors out on top with a 35-23 victory over the Bulldogs.
Both offenses got off to a slow start, but once again, it was the Bucs’ special teams that provided a spark. Max Evans blocked a field goal attempt from the visitors, as it spun down around the goal line.
Instead of leaving the ball and taking over on downs, Sheldon Arnold scooped up the pigskin and navigated the entire field for a 99-yard scoop-and-score.
Arnold’s touchdown opened the floodgates, as ETSU managed three more touchdowns in the half to take a 28-10 lead.
A Bucs fumble led to a quick Citadel score in the third quarter, chopping the deficit to 28-17.
However, Jaylen Frierson snagged a 25-yard touchdown pass to boost the lead back up to 35-17 with 8:34 to play in the third quarter.
The Citadel’s Colby Kintner booted through two more field goals on the day, but that was all the scoring the visitors managed for the remainder of the game.
“Clearly it’s been a tough year,” head coach George Quarles said. “I mean, there’s no getting around that. But to end on a high note, something positive to happen, you know, in the last game, you know, is good. I just kept telling them, you know, I wanted to finish.”
“Football is all about winning,” ETSU wide receiver Xavier Gaillardetz said. “So of course it’s more fun when you win. But, special shout-out to those seniors just kind of sending them out the right way.”
Gaillardetz was the team’s leading receiver, hauling in five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Junior quarterback, Haynes Eller, got the start under center in the finale. He completed 9-of-15 passes for 163 yards and a pair of scores.
Trey Foster led the effort on the ground, carrying the ball 17 times for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Bulldogs had only been sacked four times entering Saturday’s tilt with ETSU, but the Bucs got the quarterback three times. Jaylen George had 1.5 of those sacks, while Deven Brantley (1.0) and Ray Coney (0.5) also got in on the action.
Senior linebacker Stephen Scott led the team with 12 total tackles and a quarterback hit in his final game for the Blue and Gold. Linebacker Zach West, however, can return to the Bucs in 2024.
He believes Saturday’s win can set the right tone heading into the winter, as the team prepares for next season.
“With what college football is now. There’s a lot of turnover. I don’t know. I don’t even understand. But, you know, whoever’s here, it’s going to catapult us into the offseason, get us going for next year.”
Following the game, Quarles told reporters he was unsure if he would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2024.
“Not my decision,” he said. “I hope so, but I understand how this works.”
The Bucs finish the season with a record of 3-8.