East Tennessee State football coach Carl Torbush wants his program to completely revive the rivalry between the Buccaneers and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs.
He also knows there's only one way to do it.
"Go beat them," he said.
For the Bucs, Saturday's game in Chattanooga is an opportunity to get their first win in the series since 2003. And for seven ETSU players the game is a homecoming.
Quarterback Austin Herink is from Cleveland High School, defensive back Tyrik Stewart from McCallie, defensive lineman Robert Murphy from Notre Dame, offensive lineman Myles Smith from Red Bank and linebackers Austin Gatewood and Alonzo Francois and wide receiver Tony Francois from East Hamilton.
Herink — the player who UTC coach Tom Arth says "makes that team go" — has thrown for 2,121 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Gatewood has 32 tackles, 7.5 for loss, a sack and an interception, and Alonzo Francois has played in all 10 games, registering 11 tackles, two for loss.
"That's as close as we're going to get to a crosstown rivalry, even though it's three hours away," Torbush said in his weekly news conference Monday. "When I say crosstown rival, that means the closest thing we've got to being across town, like you would in high school football, and I still believe that UTC and Western Carolina should be those type of schools. We have to do our part in making it a rivalry again."
After a decade of ETSU not playing football, Saturday's matchup may not have the same implications it once did to the current players, but Bucs defensive coordinator Billy Taylor, who played for ETSU from 1983 to 1987, said the game is important to him and "always has been."
"I remember (former UTC head coach) Buddy Nix saying in the newspaper that the rivalry was more for ETSU than it was for Chattanooga," Taylor said. "Well, we had a lot of success against them during that time, so I'm glad they felt that way, but to me, I'm hoping that it's going to end up being the FCS version of Alabama-Auburn or Ohio State-Michigan, because we're two state schools.
"We recruit in the same areas. It would be good for the Southern Conference for both of us to be very competitive, and it would be great if we played the last game of the year each season. And when it gets to a point where we're playing those games for the championship, or to go to the playoffs the next week, I think that would be the things that we're striving for."
Playoff picture clearing
Western Carolina had a chance to all but lock down a spot in the FCS playoffs last Saturday with a home win against Mercer.
Not only did the Catamounts fail on that stage, but they put any chance to make the playoffs in doubt.
The 35-33 loss to the Bears knocked the Catamounts out of the FCS Top 25 and left them with a 7-4 record and projected out of the 24-team field. SoCon champion and automatic qualifier Wofford (9-1) is projected as a seven seed in the field, while Furman (7-3) and Samford (7-3) are also slated to be in. Furman, with seven straight victories after a 0-3 start, visits the Bulldogs, who got a boost with a 42-7 win over ETSU last week.
The Catamounts would need to defeat Atlantic Coast Conference member North Carolina in the season finale to give themselves the best chance to sneak in the field for the second time in their history and first time since 1983.
"I hurt for the seniors and our program because this was the next step in moving our football program forward," WCU coach Mark Speir said this week. "It was a disappointing loss to Mercer. All we can do now is go finish.
"We've got one week guaranteed. We have to go finish."
Players of the week
Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams and Mercer linebacker Lee Bennett and return specialist Chandler Curtis were named SoCon players of the week.
Adams accounted for 433 yards of total offense, throwing for three touchdowns and 378 yards. Bennett had 16 tackles, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass in the same game, while Curtis had a game-high 184 all-purpose yards, including a 77-yard kickoff return that set up the winning touchdown.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.