Relegated to a backup quarterback role at the start of the season, the senior left-hander from Cleveland, Tenn., was on the sideline when the Paladins rolled to a 27-6 lead over the Bucs.
Herink entered the game with 8:12 left in the third quarter and made an immediate impact. He led the Bucs on their longest scoring drive of the season, a 93-yarder that included a 52-yard pass play from Herink to Keith Coffee.
The Bucs now trailed 27-13.
In ETSU’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Herink completed a 54-yard pass to Anthony Spagnoletti. Two plays later, running back Quay Holmes scored on a 12-yard run, and the Bucs were within a touchdown.
Herink and the Bucs weren’t done. On ETSU’s next possession, Herink fashioned a 10-play, 65-yard drive to tie the game.
It then fell to the defense. Dylan Weigel tackled Furman running back Darius Morehead in the end zone for a safety, which proved to be the winning score when the Bucs stopped the Paladins once more.
There was no holding back the emotions.
Herink spent minutes shedding tears of joy with teammates, coaches and other supporters. Coming out of the locker room, he reflected on how he’s continued to prepare as a starter while being in the backup role behind Logan Marchi.
“It was good to get those first couple of completions and to get that confidence back,” Herink said. “Keith and I have worked so much on that throw. I remember us coming out here (to the stadium) when the lights were off and throwing that same exact pass.
“To get that to happen when the lights are on ... it was just fun to be a part of such a great comeback for ETSU football.”
Herink finished 9-of-14 passing for 202 yards, following Marchi’s 8-of-17 effort for 71 yards.
Herink didn’t only spark the ETSU offense, however.
“Austin came in and made a couple of plays and the team sure fed off it,” Bucs coach Randy Sanders said. “Once he did that, everyone started playing better. The receivers caught the ball better, the line blocked a little better and the backs did everything better. It certainly provided some inspiration to the defense, too.
“Football is a game of emotion. You try to play it the same no matter the situation, but once we got a little momentum on our side, our guys really took off.”
Weigel wreaked havoc on the defensive end. He has 355 tackles for his career, but none was bigger than the game-winning safety. In typical fashion, the senior linebacker credited the linemen for putting him in position to make the play.
“You have to give it to the guys up front, Tremond (Ferrell), Nas (Player) and all of them played a heck of a game,” Weigel said. “Coach (Billy) Taylor called a great game and it was a good defensive effort all around. It just happened where I was there to make the final play.”
Ferrell finished with a game-high 12 tackles and Weigel, who was sporting a black eye after the game, totaled nine.
Somewhat overlooked on the offensive end was the Holmes’ tough running throughout the game. The redshirt freshman from Powder Springs, Ga., carried the ball 22 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
The official attendance was 8,453, a strong number considering the game was played at the same time Tennessee hosted Florida in Knoxville. About half the crowd left after a lightning delay at halftime, but those who stayed were rewarded with one of the biggest comeback wins in ETSU history.
The win set up a huge Southern Conference game next Saturday when the Bucs (3-1, 2-0) host rival Chattanooga (4-0, 2-0). Weigel sees a great chance for the Bucs to build off the Furman win.
“The first half didn’t go our way, but we made some adjustments at halftime,” Weigel said. “The team came together and showed what kind of team we can be that second half, and the kind of team that we will be.”