ETBU chasing the best

East Texas Baptist (including quarterback Sed Harris) has faced some tough non-conference opponents in recent years.
East Texas Baptist file photo

DOVER, Del. -- Over the past few years, East Texas Baptist coach Mark Sartain has scheduled tough nonconference games as aggressively as anyone in Division III. Sartain, whose Tigers generally have finished in the middle of the pack in the ASC in his five seasons, have traveled the nation from coast-to-coast and North to South.

ETBU has traveled to California taking on Redlands and then-NAIA Azusa Pacific, Wisconsin to take on UW-La Crosse, Minnesota to take on St. John's. Sartain has hopes of returning the Tigers to the D-III playoffs, a feat they accomplished back in 2003 when they tied for the ASC title. The idea is to get better you have to play top competition.

“It wouldn’t do us any good to play an out-of-conference team that we could probably slap around,” he said. “Playing people like that, we know game speed. It’s not going to be foreign to us regardless of what we face down the road.”

And while the Tigers have competed well against some of D-III’s toughest programs and conferences, they are still searching for signature victory that can give the program the momentum and confidence to make the next step. They nearly had it last season, taking ASC champ Mary Hardin-Baylor into overtime.

“Success is like failure,” Sartain said. “It’s contagious. When you get on a roll you get confident.”

On Saturday, against third-ranked Wesley, the Tigers again showed the talent and skill to be competitive with a top team, but mistakes once again kept them from getting over the hump. ETBU led early, playing an impressive first quarter, before the miscues snowballed into a 34-10 loss.

Perhaps the player most symbolic of the Tigers' ups and downs Saturday was quarterback Sed Harris. The senior, who led the ASC in rushing last season, was on fire in the first quarter. Harris completed his first nine passes of the game for 111 yards and a touchdown and added 23 yards rushing on three carries.

And even after the Wolverines had tied the score, the Tigers drove into Wesley territory with a steady mixture of Jair Stover runs and short passes. But on second down and six from the Wesley, the game turned.

Harris slightly underthrew a pass that Wesley corner Dakevis Howard picked off and returned 78 yards to the ETBU 9-yard line. A play later, the Wolverines led 14-7, an advantage they would take into halftime.

“We felt we had control of the game until the interception return,” Sartain said. “We let them off the ropes.”

Trailing 20-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers had one last chance to get back in the game facing fourth-and-2 at the Wolverine 4-yard line. But again Wesley came up the big play when needed intercepting a Harris pass which was returned to midfield. Wesley salted the game away with a touchdown from their and later return an intercepted screen pass for a touchdown making the final 34-10.

“You can’t make the kind of mistakes that we made against a team like Wesley,” Sartain said. “You have to bring your ‘A’ game every snap because its one or two plays that can be the difference between winning and losing. I don’t think the score was indicative of the competition on the field.”

Harris would finish the game 26-of-41 for 259 yards with four interceptions, while leading the team with 61 rushing yards. Despite the interceptions, he showed by he may be most dangerous players in the ASC. After the game, Sartain made sure some time to making sure the psyche of his senior quarterback wasn’t affected.

“I was just encouraging him. He’s a real emotional kid,” Sartain said. “He’s really critical of himself. He takes the weight of his mistakes very seriously.

“He was making sure that I wasn’t going to give up on him, but he never has to worry about that. Sed is an incredible athlete, extremely gifted. He just needs to continue to grow in his confidence on the down the field stuff, so he doesn’t have to resort to his instinctive ability as often.”

And though the four interceptions certainly were painful, ETBU certainly has other areas that it can improve in. For instance, they committed 13 penalties for 103 yards. They were just 1-for-3 in the red zone, scoring just three points when they got inside the 20.

“The things that kept us from being successful are things that we can fix,” Sartain said. That’s what we’ll go back to work on.”

If they can get those things fixed, they could be a team that contends for the ASC title this season.

“The thing about playing a team like Wesley is that you know exactly where you stand,” Sartain added.

So where is this team?

They feature a play-making quarterback, and talented veterans at the running back and receiving positions. The defense held Wesley a team that typically averages well over 400 yards a game under 300 total yards. (Though Wesley enjoyed an average starting field position at their own 44 for the game. They rarely had to travel far.)

“We’re not as good as we think we are,” Sartain said. “But we’re not as good as we can be either.”

Games this Week
Sewanee (1-0) at Washington & Lee (1-0):
The Tigers picked up coach Tommy Laurendine’s first career victory by racking up an impressive 408 rushing yards in their new flexbone offensive package. They faced a tougher test this week in defending ODAC champion, where Laurendine once was an assistant. With both teams running the ball, it might seem like this game is being played with a running clock.

LaGrange (0-1) at Millsaps (0-1):  Both teams are coming off opening week losses. The LaGrange offense was anemic last week gaining just 164 yards and throwing two “Pick-Sixes.” Not a good week for them to face a Millsaps team coming off a tough overtime loss to an archrival and expecting to contend for the SCAC title.

Huntingdon (1-0) at Birmingham-Southern (1-0): The lone D-III schools in the football-crazy state of Alabama will battle for the Wesley Cup. The Hawks rolled up over 500 yards of behind quarterback Neal Posey and an deep and experienced receiving corps against Maryville. They’ll have to stop Panther tailback Shawn Morris, who rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns against LaGrange. Huntingdon leads the series 2-1.

Rhodes  (0-0) at Washington U. (1-0): It is the season opener and first game for new coach Dan Gritti with the Lynx. Washington defeated Knox 28-10 in their opener.

Texas Lutheran (1-0) at Trinity (1-0): Linebacker Nick Darling, ASC defensive player of the week with 15 tackles, spearheads a Trinity defense that allowed just 135 yards last week in a win over Howard Payne. TLU quarterback Mitchell Bunger rushed for over 100 yards and passed two touchdowns as the Bulldogs topped Austin 31-28. Trinity may still be smarting from the 42-14 loss to TLU last year in Seguin.

Austin (0-1) at East Texas Baptist (0-1): The Roos were in catch-up mode all last week in the loss to TLU with quarterback Travis Zambiasi passing for three touchdowns, while the Tigers will look to clean up the mistakes from a week one loss at Wesley.

McMurry (0-1) at UT-San Antonio (1-0): The War Hawks face their second straight Division I-FCS opponent in the Alamodome. UTSA is coached by former Miami Hurricane head man Larry Coker and won the first year program’s inaugural game 31-3 against D-II Northeastern State in front of 50,000-plus. It shouldn’t be as ugly as last week for McMurry but a win may be a lot to ask for.

Hardin-Simmons (1-0) at Willamette (1-0): Another tough nonconference game for the Cowboys, who were very impressive in coach Jesse Burleson’s debut last week against Coe, winning 41-14. The Bearcats play the second of five consecutive home games after nipping UW-Stevens Point 8-6. Receiver Travis Tatsch had 265 of the Cowboys 342 passing yards, while running duo of Steven Rockwell and Derrick Grant give them a potent ground game.

Sul Ross State (0-1) at Bacone (0-2): The Lobos will try to shake of a tough last second loss in the opener against D-II Western New Mexico. Quarterback Scotty Walden made an impressive debut passing for 245 yards and two touchdowns to receiver Lee Carothers.

Howard Payne (0-1) at Southwest Assemblies (0-1): Cote Schacheri averaged more than 42 yards on seven punts for the Yellow Jackets against Trinity. It was their only statistical highlight n the game.

UW-La Crosse (0-1) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (0-0): The opener for the defending ASC champion Crusaders. Last season, they had to overcome a 19-0 deficit to pull off a victory in Wisconsin. The Eagles fell to defending national champ Whitewater last week.

Mississippi College (1-0) at Belhaven (0-1): Two teams coming of overtime games last week. Running back Steven Knight rushed for 97 yards for the Choctaws in his first game back from injury.

Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@D3Jason).

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

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