VMI football falls short at Furman in SoCon opener, 24-21

vmi footballInspired by a rejuvenated defense, VMI battled throughout but came up short in its conference opener. Driving for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, VMI’s second interception of the game deep in Furman territory led to a decisive long field goal by the Paladins, and Furman held off a late VMI charge to top the Keydets, 24-21, in the Southern Conference opener for both teams Saturday afternoon in Greenville, S.C.

With the game tied at 21-21 late, the Keydets drove all the way to the Furman 21-yard line, but quarterback Al Cobb’s pass was intercepted by Reggie Thomas at the Furman 12 and returned to midfield. VMI receiver Aaron Sanders nearly stripped the ball from Thomas to get it back, but the Paladins retained possession after the sudden change. Eight plays later, Jon Croft Hollingsworth booted a 42-yard field goal to give the Paladins the lead for good with 4:35 remaining in the contest.

Playing its third road game in four weeks, VMI fell to 1-3, 0-1 SoCon while the Paladins evened their mark to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in conference play.

VMI had one last try to counter in the back-and-forth game, but Cobb was dropped short of first-down yardage on a fourth-and-10 try at the Furman 45 and turned the ball over on downs with 3:49 left. A desperation drive late in the contest yielded nothing, and the Keydets had their bid for their first win in Greenville since 1977 spoiled.

With the setback, VMI squandered its best defensive effort of the year. The Keydets held an opponent to a season low 24 points, recovering a pair of fumbles along the way. But a special teams miscue and the two interceptions were too much to overcome.

Both of those fumble recoveries by VMI came in the first half as the Keydets stormed out to a 14-0 advantage. Derrick Ziglar gave the Keydets the early lead with a 1-yard touchdown run with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter, and midway through the second period, Brian Lipscomb recovered the second Furman fumble after a sack to give the VMI offense the ball at the Paladin 40. Cobb capped a 7-play drive with a 3-yard scoring strike to Matt Nicholson to give VMI a 14-0 lead with 7:07 remaining in the first half.

Cobb finished the game with 235 yards through the air, completing 21 of 42 passes with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Aaron Sanders was the leading receiver for the Keydets, who mustered just 44 yards rushing in the contest, with six receptions for 49 yards, while Sam Patterson and Dane Forlines hauled in four catches apiece. Forlines has now caught passes in 16 consecutive games.

Trailing 14-0, the Paladins grabbed some momentum just before intermission when Ernie Cain scored from a yard out with 1:30 left in the first half. After halftime, Furman blocked a VMI punt, with Brian Ross returning it five yards to tie the game at 14-14. Furman took the lead for

Furman finished the game with 322 yards of total offense, to overcome 110 yards in penalties. Hannon was 22-for-40 passing for 197 yards, while Loga McCarter and Andrej Suttles each hauled in five of those passes.

VMI responded early in the fourth, marching 75 yards in 16 plays, with Ziglar crossing the goal from two yards out to tie the game. And the Keydets appeared to be driving for the go-ahead score in the fourth before the Thomas interception that set up the winning field goal.

“I think our kids fought hard to the end. I am proud of the effort and I thought the defense played great. We just have to find a way to make one more play,” said VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim.

The Keydets return to Lexington next Saturday to face Bucknell in the first of three straight games at Foster Stadium. Game time is slated for 1:30 p.m.

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