VMI has chances in fourth quarter, falls short in SoCon opener
Despite a career-high 305 passing yards from sophomore Reece Udinski and a 17-13 lead at the half, the VMI football team fell by a 27-24 score to ETSU Friday at Foster Stadium in a game rescheduled due to the incoming Hurricane Florence.
With the loss, the Keydets fall to 0-3 on the season, 0-2 in the Southern Conference, while the Buccaneers improve to 2-1 overall, 1-0 in league play. In their third year of NCAA competition after restoring the program in 2016, the Bucs earned their first SoCon road victory since the 2002 season.
Udinski set a VMI school record for passing attempts with 60 during the game as he completed a career-high 27 attempts and threw for a career-high 305 yards. He broke the former record of 57 set by quarterback Joey Gibson against ETSU in 2001. The last time a VMI QB threw for 300 yards was October 31, 2015, when Al Cobb threw for 370 against Wofford. His 27 completions also ties for 10th in program history for a single game.
Keydet receiver Kris Thornton also played a solid game as he set a career high with 119 receiving yards, topping his 108 in the Wofford game last season.
Defensively, AJ Smith set a career high with 11 tackles while Collin Loftis also set a new personal mark with six stops in the game. Uzoma Kpaduwa (10 tackles) and Elliott Brewster (8) also set personal bests in tackles for a single game.
“I thought our defense played great,” VMI coach Scott Wachenheim said. “We had three interceptions, including Devin Carper’s interception return for a touchdown and Collin Loftis’ runback just short of a touchdown. Collin also really improved his tackling this week – it was a point of emphasis this week in practice and I am very proud of him.
“The defense rose up and stopped their offense numerous times and showed people what the VMI defense is all about,” Wachenheim said.
The Keydets recovered from a slow start after ETSU returned a punt return 69 yards for a touchdown 1:26 into the game and the offense failed to find rhythm during the opening quarter. Things picked up for VMI in the second quarter when Quan Myers capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard run at the 14:00 mark. Seconds later, the VMI defense stepped up when Devin Carper intercepted a pass at the ETSU 15-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown to put VMI up, 14-7. The teams exchanged field goals the remainder of the period to put the Keydets up, 17-13, at the break.
Down 27-24 early in the fourth quarter following a Quay Holmes TD scamper for ETSU, the Keydets attempted several rallies in the final 11 minutes of regulation but could not find the endzone. In the final drive, the Keydets were aided by a string of ETSU penalties and a 29-yard pass completion from Udinski to Javeon Lara to put VMI at the ETSU 31, but the Keydets could not move the ball farther in what resulted in a turnover on downs with 45 seconds to play.
“I am very thankful for how our young men bounced back today after two difficult ballgames. They came and fought hard. The first quarter wasn’t kind to us, but the defense kept us in the ballgame until the offense turned it around,” Wachenheim said.
The Keydets return to action next Saturday in a Southern Conference road matchup at Western Carolina. The Keydets and Catamounts kick off at 3:30 p.m. in Cullowhee, North Carolina.