JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The East Tennessee State University football team has defied the odds all season. From not being ranked in the preseason, then climbing to the top 10, they have now made it to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.
They face a monumental task: a trip to Fargo, North Dakota to take on 8-time FCS national champions North Dakota State.
The Bucs took to the skies Friday to embark on the more than one thousand-mile journey to Fargo.
“The kids have persevered, they fought through. They never give up. It’s nice to be in this situation and have this opportunity,” said Head Football Coach Randy Sanders.
Coach Sanders knows the boys will need to play the game of their life Saturday.
“The challenge is always good football players. They’ve got a lot of good players, we’ve got a lot of good players. You’ve got to deal with the noise, you’ve got to deal with the travel. Still, when the ball is snapped it’s the 11 guys on the other side that matter the most,” said Sanders.
After defeating Kennesaw State by the skin of their teeth last Saturday, the Bucs advanced in the playoffs. The team flew out Friday afternoon to Fargo with their sights set on taking down the Bison and eventually making it all the way to the title game in Frisco.
“They just never lay down. They don’t know what it is to quit,” said Lee Morrow, Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities and Game Operations.
The Bucs’ last playoff win was in 1996. However, as they head to battle North Dakota State, this is the farthest ETSU has ever made it in the playoffs.
“We just started in 2015. Got our lunch handed to us almost every game we played. To be to where we win the conference outright and won a very tough contest at home, now to go on a national level with these guys, it speaks volumes,” said Morrow.
11 wins this season marks the most in program history. Saturday, the Bucs hope to add one more tally to the win column.
“A tough place to play, but if we win this game, it will be a national statement. We made a regional statement last week. I’m very pleased, very proud of this team,” said Morrow.
“I’m proud of the kids, proud of the season. I’m proud for the administration. For Dr. Noland, Scott Carter, for the fans. It’s been a fun year,” said Sanders.
ETSU kicks off against North Dakota State at 11 a.m. central, noon EST on Saturday.