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VMI falls at Gardner-Webb, 38-7

James Rogers put the VMI Keydets up 7-3 with an 80-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, but the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs scored 35 unanswered points to close out the game and win, 38-7, in Big South football action Saturday in Boiling Springs, N.C.

After Gardner-Webb (2-6, 1-2 Big South) notched a first quarter field goal to take the early lead, VMI (2-6, 1-3 BSC) responded on their first play of the second period, when Eric Kordenbrock found Rogers for the 80-yard strike. It was VMI’s longest play of the season, a career-long reception for Rogers and an effort that tied for the ninth-longest pass play in Institute history, equaling a Kordenbrock pass to Mario Scott in 2010.

Unfortunately for VMI, Kordenbrock was picked off in the endzone on the next Keydet drive, and GWU responded with a touchdown drive late in the half to take a 10-7 halftime advantage. That appeared to turn the momentum, as just two plays into the third quarter, GWU quarterback Lucas Beatty threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus White to increase the home team’s lead to 10. That long pass opened a 28-point third quarter for Gardner-Webb, helped by two long punt returns and a pair of VMI turnovers, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs pulled away for the victory.

In the setback, Kordenbrock went 19 for 35 for 254 yards and the touchdown pass to Rogers. He also completed passes to 10 different receivers, with Rogers leading the way with five grabs for 103 yards. The redshirt sophomore became the first Keydet receiver to top 100 yards since last November, when Aaron Lewis accomplished the feat against these same Runnin’ Bulldogs.

For GWU, Beatty threw for 328 yards, a career-high, as well as four touchdowns.

The Keydets took the ball first on the 67-degree, overcast day, and promptly marched down the field. Dexter Bridge had a critical 22-yard first down grab on 3rd and 10, a play that had an additional 15 yards tacked on to it when GWU was whistled for roughing Kordenbrock. That set up a first down at the Runnin’ Bulldog 22, and Jabari Turner moved the ball to the 16 one play later, but Kordenbrock was sacked on third down. Jeff Sexton’s 43-yard field goal try then hit the right upright, and the Keydets came away empty.

Gardner-Webb responded by going 63 yards in 13 plays, getting the ball inside the VMI 15, but the Keydet defense stiffened and forced a 29-yard field goal, which Trever Austin hit to put the home team up, 3-0.

Once again, VMI came right back down the field. First down passes to Derrick Ziglar and Stefawn Ross helped move the ball into GWU territory, and on 4th and 8 from the Gardner-Webb 31, the Keydets went for the first down. Kordenbrock’s pass attempt, however, was hurried and fell incomplete, and the 10-play drive went by the boards.

Gardner-Webb could not score on its next drive, and would take a 3-0 lead into the second quarter, as they kicked the ball to VMI three plays into that period. On the first Keydet play from scrimmage, Rogers found the endzone from 80 yards out for a touchdown, and a 7-3 Keydet lead.

The Keydet defense again stiffened following the touchdown, as GWU lost a yard on its first two plays, and Charlie Jones broke through for a sack on the third, forcing a punt. VMI continued to move the ball well, proceeding down the field and gaining first downs on passes to Mario Thompson (20 yards) and Ziglar (14 yards).

The Keydets, in fact, got to the Gardner-Webb 14, and seemed poised to take command of the game, but on first down from the 14, Kordenbrock floated a pass into the endzone that was picked off by Tiko Thompson for a touchback.

Gardner-Webb then went 80 yards in 12 plays, a drive capped by Beatty’s three-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Cook with 1:07 left in the half. The point after gave the home team a 10-7 lead, which would be the score at halftime. The first half had seen the Keydets hold a 217-163 edge in total yards, while Kordenbrock had posted a solid 13 for 20 effort, including 194 yards.

GWU received the second half kick, and it was returned 35 yards by J.J. Hubbard to set up a third-quarter pattern, as Hubbard would have 112 return yards in the third period alone. On the opening drive, however, he was stopped on a second-down run to set up a 3rd and 14, but Beatty found White for a 64-yard touchdown strike. The long play would give Gardner-Webb a 17-7 edge, a margin that grew to 24-7 moments later.

After the Keydets turned the ball over on a fumble on their next possession, GWU used a halfback pass to increase its lead. Juanne Blount was able to get the ball to Hudson Smith for a 17-yard touchdown, and a 17-point lead for Gardner-Webb with 10:41 left in the third.

Austin then kicked the ball off, but Mike Smith lost it at his own 33 and Exavier Johnson fell on the loose ball, giving the Runnin’ Bulldogs prime field position. This time, they could not take advantage, as Austin shanked a 27-yard field goal and the lead remained 17, 24-7. The Keydets could not respond, as they would go three and out, and a David Eberhardt punt was returned 30 yards by Hubbard.

That gave GWU the ball at the VMI 31, and five plays later, Beatty found Cook for a 24-yard touchdown and a 31-7 lead. The Keydets picked up a first down on their next possession, but again, were forced to punt. Two plays into the ensuing drive, White made his second touchdown grab of the day, this one a 47-yard strike, to put the margin to 31, 38-7. That would cap the scoring, as neither team tallied points in the final period.

The 31-point margin of victory is easily the widest in the 10-game history between the programs, as previously, no game between GWU and VMI had been decided by more than 14 points. Keydet defensive tackle Charlie Jones equaled his career-highs in tackles (6) and tackles for loss (3.5), while VMI accumulated 12 total tackles for loss, the most in the Sparky Woods era.

VMI football will return to action next Saturday, as the Keydets travel to the Empire State to face the Stony Brook Seawolves. Game time in Stony Brook, N.Y. is set for 6 p.m.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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