East Tennessee State may be short its top defensive player when it takes the field this Saturday against the Montana Grizzlies in the second round of NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
James Russell, the Buccaneers’ preseason All-American defensive end, was three short of the Southern Conference record for quarterback sacks when he went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter last Saturday.
East Tennessee hung on to defeat Villanova 35-29 and advance to the second round, playing this Saturday against defending I-AA national champion Montana in Missoula. But Russell’s is doubtful.
“He’s improving every day,” said Buccaneers coach Mike Cavan on Wednesday. “I’d say he’s probably up to ‘questionable’ today.”
“I’m sure he’ll do whatever it takes to play, but that’ll be a big concern for them,” said Montana coach Mick Dennehy. “He could play five or six different positions on defense, probably more. You can tell he loves to play the game.”
The Buccaneers definitely lost slot receiver B.J. Adigun, who broke his wrist against Villanova. He was the team’s second-leading pass receiver, with 44 catches for 575 yards and six touchdowns.
However, Anthony Stringfield stepped in for Adigun and caught two touchdown passes against Villanova.
“He had a great game,” said quarterback Greg Ryan. “I don’t feel like we step off at all with Stringfield in there.”
East Tennessee comes into the contest at 10-2. Montana is 12-0; the Grizzlies defeated Nicholls State 48-3 in first-round play last Saturday.
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