VMI plays tough, still falls short to Charleston Southern, 25-17
After a back and forth contest throughout, a pair of fourth down plays late in the game made the difference as the #25 Charleston Southern Buccaneers eked out a 25-17 win over the VMI Keydets in Big South football action Saturday at VMI’s Foster Stadium. The contest was the Big South opener for both schools.
With CSU (7-0, 1-0 Big South) having extended its lead to 25-17 on a field goal with 7:38 to play, the Keydets (1-5, 0-1 Big South) responded with a six-play, 60-yard drive that gave them a fourth and 5 at the CSU 15. A quick in intended for Mario Thompson fell incomplete and CSU took over on downs, but VMI got the ball back with 3:22 to play. A 40-yard Eric Kordenbrock to Doug Burton bomb to the CSU 45 gave VMI hope, but three incompletions and a sack forced another turnover on downs and CSU held on for the victory.
Charleston Southern utilized eight different rushers combined to post 211 yards on the ground. That helped the visitors hold a startling 36:38-23:22 edge in time of possession.
In the loss, Derrick Ziglar returned from injury to post 65 yards rushing and another 58 yards receiving, while Kordenbrock finished 21 of 38 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The senior quarterback went over 6,000 career passing yards on his final completion, the 40-yard pass to Burton, becoming the seventh QB in Big South history to do so. He also posted his 13th career game with at least 200 yards passing, which tied Joey Gibson ’03 for the most such games in VMI annals.
Coming off a bye week, things did not get off to a good start for the home team. Kordenbrock’s pass on VMI’s first play from scrimmage was intercepted by Corbin Jackson and returned 31 yards, the Keydet quarterback’s first pick since the Aug. 31 season opener at Richmond, and CSU quickly took advantage. On the very next play, quarterback Daniel Croghan III found Kevin Glears on a deep post over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Buc lead.
After an exchange of punts, VMI was forced to kick the ball away once again from its own five, and the Bucs added on again. Mike Holloway burst for a 42-yard run, giving the visitors a first and goal, and Christian Reyes took it in from four yards out for the touchdown. The point after was missed, making it 13-0, CSU.
That would be the score after one quarter, and CSU missed a chance to add on early in the second. After getting the ball for the final play of the opening period, the Bucs continued a drive that would wind up being 12 plays long, but it covered just 36 yards. VMI forced a field goal attempt from Mark Deboy, who missed wide right from 43 yards out to keep it a 13-0 contest.
The Keydets responded on the following drive, as Kordenbrock went 3 for 3 and Ziglar ran for 24 yards on three carries. The senior quarterback finished the push off with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Burton, and after Dillon Christopher’s extra point, it was 13-7 with5:44 left in the opening half.
After a CSU punt, VMI marched back down the field once again. Kordenbrock had four completions, each to a different receiver, and the Keydets took advantage of a CSU pass interference penalty to cap the drive with a 15-yard Kordenbrock-to-Nicholson connection, making it 14-13. That would be the halftime score, a first half that had seen Kordenbrock lead his team back by going 7 for his last 8, after starting 3 for 10 with two interceptions.
The Bucs took the ball to start the second half and slowly pushed it down the field. A 17-play, 70-yard drive took nearly eight minutes off the game clock, as no play on the push accounted for more than 10 yards. At one point, Croghan III was directly involved in seven straight players, whether by rush or pass attempt, but the VMI defense stiffened in the red zone and forced a Deboy field goal. This time, the kicker connected from 22 yards out, making it 16-14 CSU with 7:04 on the third quarter clock. The Keydets responded yet again in the back and forth battle, as a 12-play, 51-yard drive included two third-down conversion passes from Kordenbrock. Five different receivers caught passes on the drive, but the home team had to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Christopher, which connected to give VMI the lead once again, 17-16.
The next CSU drive, which started at the 2:06 mark, was one of the biggest of the game. On a 3rd and 8 from the CSU 27, Croghan III connected with Larry Jones III for a 25-yard completion, which was a harbinger of the very next play. A deep slant over the middle just eluded the fingertips of two VMI defenders, hitting Jones III in stride for a 48-yard touchdown and a 22-17 Buc lead. That was the final play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
After a VMI punt opened the fourth, CSU went 11 plays in 69 yards, but once again, the Keydet defense stiffened inside its own 10-yard line. CSU ran three plays inside the VMI 10, but a false start penalty and an incompletion played a key role in forcing another 22-yard Deboy field goal. That made it 25-17, Bucs, with 7:38 to play and set the stage for the fourth down plays in the game’s waning moments.
For CSU, Jones III had five catches for 103 yards and a score, while Croghan III was 18 of 27 for 245 yards and two touchdowns in just his second career start. Logan Staib led the VMI defense with nine tackles, while Burton had four catches for 90 yards and James Rogers chipped in with four grabs as well.
VMI football will return to action Oct. 19, taking on the Presbyterian College Blue Hose in Clinton, S.C. Game time is set for 2 p.m.
VMI Head Coach Sparky Woods
Opening Statement: “Congratulations to Charleston Southern. They made more plays than we did and won the game. We got off to a terrible start with that interception. It was a really strange play and I can’t wait to see it on film. It looked like there was a lot of body contact over there and the ball bounced around for a bit and somehow they came up with it. They made the play, we didn’t. It put us on the long end of the field in the first quarter. And then the third quarter made up of them keeping the ball and us not being able to as much. I thought that they were pretty good on third down and we weren’t. I think that was a result of our first down play more. Our first down plays were two or three yards and theirs were better than that, so our third downs were too long and we didn’t make many. I thought we had some momentum going into the half, I thought we made some improvement in the kicking game. It was just a play or two in the game, I think.
“I thought we played the run pretty well, covered the option pretty well. … We didn’t do well on first down offensively and we weren’t able to take the ball away from them. They did a nice job holding on to the ball. That one kid did a nice job on that long play, the one-handed catch it looked like and he just ran it in. I thought one of our bright spots was the kicking game.”
On freshman kicker Dillon Christopher: “I thought he had a good day and kicked the ball well. We got into the end zone and he had several kickoffs that were not returnable. So that was a bright spot. I’m proud of him for coming back and showing character after missing the kicks before (against Robert Morris) and then coming back and making some kicks. He’s going to be a good player. He’s still a freshman, going through the Rat Line.”
On Derrick Ziglar: “I thought he had a good day, especially with that play he made right in front of our bench. He had a great run, had a great catch. They were in man-under coverage and I was surprised he caught the ball and continue running and being aware of the first down.”
James Fruehan “We have a lot of veterans on this team, we’ve seen that kind of offense before. We’ve also had two weeks to prepare for it. We shut down what we needed to shut down in that first half, we shut down the dive. We were playing the tight end seams really well and in the second half, they got away from a lot of the stuff we saw them do in their situational. We were just two big defensive plays away from winning. We need to start making big time plays in big situations and I’m fully confident that we have the players to make those plays in those situations. We’re there. We just need to start making big plays in big time situations against a top 25 team that’s 6-0. You have them in your house and it’s time to step up.”
Eric Kordenbrock On first play of the game: “I thought I had a wide receiver streaking down field, I probably should have put more air under it. That’s my fault. I hit their corner back in the back and it popped up in the air and the safety made a good play on the deflection.”
On Charleston Southern: “Charleston Southern is 25th in the nation and we were right there with them until the end. They’re a good team and they won the game out there because they were a good team today. When we come in and watch film, we’re going to see a lot of mistakes and plays left out on the field on our part. One thing our offense needs to do is play like we don’t have a defense. We do have a defense, but we can’t sit there and hope and wait for the defense to get a stop. We can’t come out in the third quarter and not put points on the board. We need to put points on the board more than not. And today we didn’t do that for our defense. We need to help our defense out, help our special teams out. We need to take on that burden and I’m sure the defense is saying the same thing. When we get both sides of the ball, all three sides of the ball including special teams, that’s when you have a good team. And we’re close. We’re right there.”
On His Wide Receivers: “I was looking to my right because I thought they might bring the cowboy and they didn’t. So I looked quickly to my left and saw their free safety come down and I knew exactly where Matt (Nicholson) was going to be and we scored a touchdown right there. Doug (Burton) is one of those guys that has worked so hard over the last couple of years and he’s finally come into his own. He’s a fast wide receiver, he’s a senior in my class. He’s a great guy and I trust him out there. He made some great plays for us and he was huge.”
Derrick Ziglar “I felt like at times we executed and sometimes we didn’t execute. I think it starts with us as players. I take responsibility for a few missed blocks that I had and that puts pressure on Eric (Kordenbrock) and as a result, he has a hard time trying to find a receiver. It’s things like that that break down and mess up and it affects everyone else. On plays like that, we have to make sure we step up and do our job. On some running plays, I think I could have broken a tackle for a few more yards and kept going. Plays like that, you have to have the heart, you have to want it. As an offense, we came out there and showed that we can score. And when it matters, someone will mess up here or there. And we as a team have to hold each other accountable for that. We need to step and do what we came here to do and that’s to win.”