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VMI opens 2021 spring football season with huge upset, defeating #10 Furman, 14-13

VMI AthleticsVMI notched its first win over a ranked team in 19 years in its season opener on Saturday, beating 10th-ranked Furman, a 24-point favorite, 14-13 at Foster Stadium in Lexington.

The program’s last win over a ranked opponent was in the 2002 season, a 27-16 victory over then-#18 Wofford.

The last season-opening win for a VMI team came back in the 2010 campaign.

This in the first game for VMI football since November 2019.

“What else do you expect from a VMI Keydet? We reported to fall camp back in August, and of course the guys were disappointed when they were told they had to go back home. In our program, we use the saying, ‘So what, now what?’ That’s what we were doing, and we constantly did that,” VMI coach Scott Wachenheim said.

“We redesigned all our practices then came back for the spring season in the freezing cold conditions. We had some COVID opt-outs, then we had some guys get COVID. We had guys in quarantine due to contact tracing from their roommates. Two weeks ago, we were down to two defensive linemen, and they were practicing against trash cans. Our kids were resilient and just kept finding ways to get better. You look at today’s game, and they just kept finding ways to win the ball game. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Furman (1-1) got on the scoreboard first 3:53 into the contest on a Hamp Sisson-to-Wayne Anderson 33-yard TD pass. Udinksi hit Michael Jackson on an 11-yard score at the 4:17 mark of the second quarter to tie the game at seven.

The Paladins took the lead again with just 15 seconds left in the half as Sisson found Ryan Miller in the end zone on an eight-yard pass, but the Paladins missed the extra point, which would prove to be crucial later.

The Keydets took their first lead of the day at the end of the third quarter on a three-day, 86-yard TD drive that was highlighted by a 57-yard screen pass from senior QB Reece Udinski to true freshman tailback Rashad Raymond that set up a Udinski-to-Chance Knox touchdown strike from 19 yards out.

Trey Rice knocked in the PAT to give the Keydets the lead with 17 seconds left in the third quarter.

“Reece never surprises me with his ingenuity. He’s decisive and accurate and unbelievably tough,” Wachenheim said. “We called that play and we thought it would be there. Coach Cosh and the offensive staff had a great design on that play. They were blitzing on the edge and I didn’t think we were going to get it off. Reece did and then Knox caught it. I was thinking, ‘Ooh, is this freshman going to make the play?’ And he did!

“Furman’s defense is very good, and they know how to attack you, but I was very impressed with Reece and Chance on that particular play.”

The VMI defense stopped three Paladin drives in the fourth quarter, one on a fourth-down stop, one on a punt and the last on a fumble with 47 seconds left and Furman threatening at the VMI 24.

The Keydets were able to kneel on the ball and run out the clock following Furman’s first turnover of the contest.

“We were playing and praying,” Wachenheim said of the closing sequence. “We’ve had a lot of close games here at VMI during my time, and a lot of breaks have gone against us. That was one that the ball hit his leg, but you’ve still got to recover it. I was praying that we would either create a turnover or that they would miss a kick. The kids came through – it was a huge play by our defense, and I’m very proud of them.

The VMI defense registered nine sacks on the day, many off the blitz. Connor Riddle had a team-high 13 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks. Stone Snyder had 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and 11 total stops, while Ethan Casselberry recorded 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Carter Johnson had nine tackles, one sack and pounced on the late Furman fumble to seal the win.

“(The VMI front seven) played great. I was definitely surprised. Furman is really good up front. They have excellent offensive line coaches,” Wachenheim said. “I thought we had an excellent plan to apply pressure and make it harder for them to run the ball. To play the way we did defensively was amazing given the quality of our opponent. I didn’t expect that, but I did think we were going to make it hard for them to move the ball.

Udinski finished the game 27-38 with two touchdowns, one interception and 248 yards passing, his 19th 200-yard game. He also booted an important quick kick on 4th-and-4 with 9:35 on the game clock from the Furman 36 that pinned the Paladins inside their own three-yard line.

Junior Jakob Herres caught five passes for 57 yards, pushing him past the 100-reception mark for his career. Jackson had six catches for 39 yards and Max Brimigion caught three balls for 35 yards.

VMI (1-0) travels to Western Carolina next Saturday for a SoCon matchup at 1 p.m. in Cullowhee, N.C.

Story by Chris Graham

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