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VMI falls to Gardner-Webb in Big South opener, 27-23

The Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs forced four turnovers and survived a late VMI drive to earn a thrilling 27-23 win over the Keydets in the Big South Conference opener for both schools, played Saturday afternoon at VMI’s Foster Stadium in Lexington, Va.

Leading by four with 1:03 left, Gardner-Webb lined up to punt. VMI’s Greg Walker was able to elude a blocker and lay out to block Graham Purvis’ punt. The ball bounced off Walker’s hands and away, allowing VMI to take over at the Bulldogs’ 29 with under a minute to go. The Keydets drove the ball to the visitors’ nine, but threw three consecutive incompletions to close out the game and allow Gardner-Webb to escape with the thrilling victory.

The Bulldogs, who came into the game with a plus-nine turnover margin, forced three VMI fumbles and grabbed an interception on one of the game’s crucial plays, a pick at the goal line with four minutes left. Gardner-Webb converted two of the VMI miscues into scoring drives, and also survived 250 all-purpose yards from Tim Maypray, including the second-longest punt return in school history, an 86-yarder late in the third quarter.

With the win, the Bulldogs move to 3-1, 1-0 in the Big South and 7-0 all-time versus the Keydets. VMI falls to 1-3 and 0-1 in Big South play.

“We had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter with the wind, and it was pretty good advantage for us to be in, but credit them – they executed better than we did to make up that deficit and win the ballgame,” VMI coach Sparky Woods said. “I thought in the first half the turnovers hurt us really bad. Second half we started the ball and had a penalty that backed us up and hurt our drive and had a poor punt. Our defense held and they missed a field goal, but we lost great field position.

“We were a good shape to win the ballgame, but didn’t execute and they did a good job of not having penalties and not turning it over and just making a enough first downs to keep the ball, and then they were able to score,” Woods said.

Gardner-Webb’s seventh-consecutive win over VMI was sparked by quarterback Stan Doolittle, who was 32-of-51 for 301 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Perry III had 11 catches for 139 yards, and Hall ran for two scores for the Bulldogs. VMI was paced by Maypray’s 250 all-purpose yards in the losing effort.

For the third consecutive week, Byron Allen led VMI in tackles, as he posted 12 stops. Eric Church had 11 tackles, in addition to his pass reception off the fake punt, and Emilio Calvin also had 11 stops.

VMI football will return to action next Saturday, as the Keydets travel to Conway, S.C., to take on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The Big South contest will begin at 7 p.m.


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