That’s right. First place.
ETSU celebrated Austin Herink’s return to the starting lineup by hanging on to beat Chattanooga 17-14 Saturday night at Greene Stadium.
The result left the Bucs (4-1, 3-0) one of two teams with undefeated Southern Conference records, joining Wofford (2-0). ETSU also claimed the inaugural Rail trophy, which will go to the winner of each game in this rivalry.
The Bucs held on after building a 17-0 lead. The Mocs (4-1, 2-1) scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and were driving for a tying field goal when the ETSU defense ultimately held on at the end.
HERINK GETS START
The best-kept secret in college football was revealed when Herink came out as ETSU’s quarterback to start the game. Herink earned his job back by coming off the bench and leading a thrilling comeback victory over Furman a week ago. Against the Mocs, he completed 11 of 25 passes for 171 yards.
It was a fitting comeback for the left-hander who had started all 33 games of his career before losing the job to Logan Marchi in preseason camp.
Last year, Herink had to be helped off the field after taking a physical beating in a season-ending 10-3 loss at Chattanooga.
This time, he engineered a scoring drive on ETSU’s second possession. He hit Quay Holmes with a screen pass, and the redshirt freshman running back did the rest. Holmes made a few moves and avoided every would-be tackle en route to a 54-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
The Bucs’ sideline was delirious and what stood out most was the reaction of Marchi, who was jumping up and down, celebrating his team’s — and Herink’s — good fortune.
With a crowd of 9,277, the second largest in the two-year history of the stadium, on hand, ETSU got the ball back when Lameric Tucker misplayed a backward pass. When he didn’t recover the ball, the Bucs’ defense pounced on it. Tremond Ferrell recovered, setting ETSU up on the Chattanooga 10-yard line. Holmes rushed twice, including a 4-yard touchdown, to make it 14-0.
Bucs kicker JJ Jerman missed a 28- yard field goal attempt, clipping it off the outside of the right upright, before connecting on a 33-yarder for a 17-0 lead.
ETSU forced three turnovers in the first half. Nasir Player was credited with sacks when he stripped Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano twice. Ferrell recovered the first and Blake Bockrath grabbed the second out of the air.
Herink threw an interception early in the third quarter and the Bucs survived when Chattanooga’s Victor Ulmo missed a 42-yard field goal try.
MOCS GET ON THE BOARD
The shutout ended with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Tiano hit Bryce Nunnelly on a 3-yard touchdown pass. Tiano had connected with Joseph Parker on a 31-yard pass on third-and-18 to set up the score.
The Bucs were still clinging to a 17-7 advantage, but they hadn’t done anything on offense in the second half.
After ETSU punted for the seventh time following a three-and-out, the Mocs’ 14-play, 73-yard drive ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by Tyrell Price that made it 17-14 with 4:27 eft in the game.
Needing a couple of first downs to run out the clock, Herink ran to covert one, putting his head down and plowing through a defender at the end of the play.
ETSU still was forced to punt again, and Marion Watson’s kick was downed at the 5-yard line by Zack Yancey.
That left 1:27 on the clock with the Mocs needing a field goal to tie. They moved to their own 47-yard line before completing a pass and trying a couple of laterals. The Bucs finished it off with a tackle to end the game.
Herink added a little drama midway through the third quarter when he was hurt after completing a pass for a first down. At the end of the play, he was down on the ground holding his leg.
It didn’t look good, but he jogged off the field.
Marchi came in for three plays before Herink returned.
BY THE NUMBERS
ETSU’s defense held Chattanooga to minus-5 rushing yards in the first half. The Mocs finished with 49 yards on the ground.
Tiano hit 32 for 56 passes for 272 yards. ETSU sacked him five times.
ETSU safety Tyree Robinson made two big plays in the third quarter when he broke up long passes with diving plays. In between those two, Domenique Williams sacked Tiano on a corner blitz.
Williams led the team with 11 tackles.
The Bucs are back in action Saturday when Gardner-Webb visits for the homecoming game. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
Chattanooga hosts Wofford.