A Kenny Cook touchdown catch in the second overtime was the difference as the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs eked out a 47-41 double overtime victory over the VMI Keydets in non-conference football action Saturday at Lexington, Va.’s Foster Stadium. It was VMI’s first overtime game of the 2014 season and was played before a crowd of 6,624, VMI’s largest attendance since the 2012 Military Classic of the South against The Citadel.
After VMI (1-7) entered the fourth quarter down 31-13, the Keydets stormed back and led briefly before a late GWU (4-3) field goal forced overtime. Both teams scored quickly in the first overtime, with the visitors doing so on a J.J. Hubbard touchdown run and VMI converting an Al Cobb to Aaron Sanders 25-yard touchdown pass.
In the second overtime, however, the Keydets were unable to put points on the board after three incompletions and a sack led to a missed 36-yard field goal. GWU took advantage immediately, as quarterback Lucas Beatty found Cook in the left corner of the end zone for the game-winner.
Cook’s game-winning grab gave him 251 yards receiving for the game, breaking a facility record previously set in 1997, and was just one of a litany of records set on the day. Cook’s quarterback, Beatty, went 25 of 42 for 430 yards and five touchdowns, and broke VMI alumnus Dave Brown’s Alumni Memorial Field mark for passing yards in the process.
Meanwhile, Keydet quarterback Al Cobb went 34 for 53 for 351 yards and six touchdowns, each of which came to a different receiver. The touchdown figure was a new school record and tied for the second-most in a single game in SoCon history, while the 34 completions tied a VMI mark and the yardage was the fifth-most ever posted by a Keydet.
Gardner-Webb jumped out to an early lead on the beautiful fall day in Lexington, as Beatty threw a pair of first quarter touchdowns to put his team up, 14-0, after one period. The Keydets got on the board with 5:46 left in the half, when Matthew Nicholson hauled in his second touchdown grab of the year, a 19-yard strike from Cobb to make it a 14-6 contest. The extra point was missed, a miss that would prove costly later on.
The teams traded scores in the final two minutes of the half. GWU put together an 11-play, 92-yard drive and capped it with Beatty’s 29-yard pass to Deonte Swinton to grab a 15-point lead, 21-6. The Runnin’ Bulldogs left too much time for Cobb and company, however, a theme that would return in the second half on both sides.
VMI was forced to punt after the touchdown, but a stop and a 15-yard punt by Andrew Komornik gave the Keydets prime field position. Cobb took advantage by completing three quick passes, the last of which was good for a 22-yard touchdown to Doug Burton and a 21-13 halftime score.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs struck again to start the second half, as on the second play from scrimmage, Beatty found Cook down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown and a 28-13 GWU lead. Gardner-Webb then kicked a field goal on its next drive and had a game-high 18-point cushion, 31-13, with 5:43 left in the third quarter.
That would be the score entering the fourth period, but the Keydets strung together a nine-play, 64-yard drive to get back in the game. Two third-down conversions by Deon Watts were crucial, and Cobb capped the push with a three-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Vardo. With 12:09 left, the Keydets were down 31-20.
After one first down, the Keydet defense stiffened and forced a punt. Cobb picked right up where he left off on the previous drive – A nine-play, 69-yard drive saw him go 6 for 7, including a fourth-down conversion to Aaron Sanders. Dane Forlines grabbed a 12-yard touchdown at the end of the drive, but the two-point conversion failed and the score was 31-26 with 5:56 to go.
Beatty made perhaps his only mistake of the day on GWU’s next play from scrimmage. A deep ball over the middle was intercepted by freshman Greg Sanders and returned to the Gardner-Webb 15, giving the Keydets a golden opportunity. VMI cashed in on 4th down, as Cobb found Watts for a 10-yard touchdown and a 34-31 lead, VMI’s first lead of the day. The 21-point fourth quarter was VMI’s first since last year’s game against Presbyterian, but there was still 4:03 left on the clock.
The visitors capped regulation with a comeback of their own. A clutch 23-yard pass on 4th and 20 gave GWU new life, allowing it to continue a 61-yard, 15-play drive that ran off nearly all of the time remaining. Kicker Paul Schumacher converted a 43-yard field goal to cap that drive and tie the game, 34-34, as the contest headed into overtime.
The Keydets won the toss and chose defense to begin overtime, an interesting note because in regulation this year, VMI has received the ball to start all eight contests thus far. Regardless, Beatty found Cook with a 23-yard pass to start the first possession and one play later, Hubbard scored for a 41-34 GWU lead. Cobb needed only one play to connect with Sanders and tie the game, 41-41, giving VMI the ball to start the second overtime.
After a first down completion to Burton, Cobb was sacked and two plays later, Dillon Christopher was wide left from 36 yards out, giving GWU the ball. The Runnin’ Bulldogs ended the game on the next play with Cook’s game-winning grab.
In addition to those standouts previously mentioned, Sam Patterson equaled a career-high with seven catches, while Gardner-Webb’s Jeffrey Pegues posted 20 tackles on defense.
VMI football returns to action Oct. 25, taking on the Wofford Terriers in Spartanburg, S.C. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m.
QUOTES – VMI HEAD COACH SPARKY WOODS
“I want to start out by congratulating (head) coach McCray and Gardner-Webb, they’re a really outstanding football team. They came in here and scored 47 points and beat us. Hats off to them. What a good job they’ve done. I thought that our guys played really hard and I’m proud of the team for battling through and battling back. They had a big, strong defensive line and we had a hard time running the ball against them, but we were able to protect and make some plays in the passing game. We still have a catastrophic play or two that keeps us from having much of a chance to win. You have to make the extra point, make a field goal. You have to be able to score to begin the second half.”
On Gardner-Webb’s 4th and 20 Late in Regulation:
“I thought that was the biggest play of the game. Fourth and 20 and you can’t get them stopped, probably don’t deserve to win.”
On Gardner-Webb’s Defense and WR Kenny Cook
“I’m proud of our football team. They played hard, just hanging in there. I thought they were intense. Gardner-Webb has a really explosive team. A big, strong defense and they have (Kenny) Cook, who is a great player and great players make great plays and he made 12 catches. … We weren’t able to play good pass defense; I’m sure he had something to do with that.”