Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina redshirt senior Nate Mullen plowed in from one-yard out in overtime as the Catamounts celebrated claiming the traveling trophy in the “Blue Ridge Border Battle” for the first time with a 23-20 victory over East Tennessee State in Southern Conference action at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Trailing by three after Tyler Keltner converted a 42-yard field goal in overtime, WCU used two Caleb Ferguson receptions of 13 and six yards, as well as a five-yard rush to move to the one-yard line. Mullen then rushed off the right side for the game-winning touchdown, setting off the wild on-field celebration.
Quarterback Tyrie Adams accounted for 262 yards of total offense in the win – WCU’s second-straight on the season which also halted a five-game SoCon drought at home – highlighted by 185 yards and a touchdown passing. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native also rushed for 77 yards and was not sacked by the daunted ETSU defensive front.
And though it was a wide receiver, Mullen, who stepped in to cash-in the game-winning touchdown, yeoman’s work was done by the running back tandem of Ferguson and Donnavan Spencer in the winning effort. Spencer, who was injured early in the extra session prompting Mullen to the backfield, finished with 171 all-purpose yards including a second-consecutive 100-yard rushing performance with 124 including a 44-yard touchdown scamper.
Ferguson, a product of nearby Waynesville, N.C., only managed eight rushing yards on the day, but matched Spencer with three receptions for 41 yards including a pair of key shovel pass receptions from Adams – one for his first career receiving TD on a 22-yard pitch-and-catch and the other on a big third down in OT that set-up Mullen from the one-yard line.
Receivers Mullen – who added eight rushing yards – and freshman Jaylin Young also recorded three catches apiece for 24 and 17 yards, respectively.
The two teams traded first-quarter field goals on Saturday as Julian Pletz capped WCU’s opening drive with a 39-yard field goal before Tyler Keltner knotted the game with a 22-yard chip shot. Early in the second quarter, Spencer broke free for WCU’s longest play from scrimmage in the win on his 44-yard rush to give the Catamounts a 10-3 lead they carried into the halftime locker room.
Both teams missed opportunities in the opening 30 minutes, missing field goal attempts of 44 yards by WCU and 30 by ETSU. WCU twice had plus field position after John Esposito dropped ETSU punter Garrett Taylor for a nine-yard loss after a bad snap on a punt attempt and JerMichael White recovered a Tyler Riddell fumble that was punched loose by Ezekiel Jennette. However, WCU was unable to convert the breaks into points.
The defenses took over at the outset of the second half with ETSU thwarting a WCU drive with a fumble on the second play from scrimmage before the Catamounts stonewalled the ETSU drive for a three-and-out. Neither team would muster much offense until midway through the frame as the Buccaneers rode tailback Quay Holmes for an equalizing touchdown, 10-10. On the nine-play, 57 yard drive, Holmes toted the football seven times, capping it with a four-yard TD rush.
Ferguson capped a 10-play, 86-yard drive by the Catamounts at the outset of the fourth quarter on the 22-yard inside scoring strike from Adams to again push WCU ahead by a touchdown with eight minutes remaining in regulation. However, the Bucs responded with a grueling 14-play drive with Holmes plunging in from five yards away and the Keltner PAT knotting the game at 17 with 1:31 to play.
Holmes, who was without backfield running mate Jacob Saylors who was not dressed, finished with 166 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 36 total carries. He also caught a pair of passes.
Methodical and deliberate all day on offense, Adams and the Catamounts went to work with 91 seconds showing on the game clock looking for a would-be game-winning score in regulation. After getting chunk yardage plays of 20 yards on a Spencer rush and an 18-yard reception by TE Owen Cosenke, Adams hooked up again with Mullen for a 13-yard gain to move into realistic field goal range. An eight-yard Adams scramble set up the Catamounts for a 31-yard field goal attempt that just missed wide right as time expired, forcing the extra session and Mullen’s eventual heroics.
Linebacker Ty Harris and safety JerMichael White finished with 11 tackles apiece with Harris posting a career-best 4.0 tackles for 10 total yards in losses while White recovered a fumble that was forced by Ezekiel Jennette. Trevor Childers also reached double figures with 10 stops, one for loss. Jennette and Jayden Pauling were both credited with sacks in the win for the WCU defense.
All told, WCU outgained ETSU offensively, 402-to-265 – the latter marking the second-lowest output by an opponent against the Catamount defense this season. The Buccaneers were limited to just 89 yards passing – the fourth time this season WCU has held the opposition under 100 yards passing.
Western Carolina (3-7, 2-5 SoCon) remains at home next Saturday, Nov. 16 as it wraps-up the home portion of its 2019 schedule on Hall of Fame and Senior Day against the Samford Bulldogs (4-6, 3-4 SoCon). Both prior to and during next Saturday’s game, WCU will recognize its 14 football seniors, as well as senior members of the football support staff, Catamount cheerleaders, WCU Dance Team, and “Pride of the Mountains” Marching Band. WCU will also honor its two latest inductees into its Athletics Hall of Fame – former men’s basketball and NBA star, Kevin Martin (2001-04), and former women’s soccer standout Jordan Howell Dunn (2000-03).