The Keydets finished an unbelievable season April 24. The Big Red kept the Silver Shako and won the Southern Conference Championship. They started out beating No. 10 Furman 14-13, then snapped a forever losing streak in Cullowhee, North Carolina, taking down Western Carolina, 30-7.
They continued to march up the rankings, beating Mercer 41-14 and bringing the record to 3-0—a record not been seen since 1981. They topped Samford 38-37 in overtime, with Reece Udinski ’21, quarterback, returning to play after an injury. The injury put Udinski out for the remainder of the season and left fans holding their breath.
A collective exhale came when Seth Morgan ’23, backup quarterback, showed his stuff. The Keydets didn’t miss a beat, knocking down Wofford with a come-from-behind 36-31 win. The Keydets stumbled a little in the next contest, dropping their only game of the regular season to East Tennessee State 24-20 in Lexington, but were back on top when The Citadel came to town.
The Keydets won the first Southern Conference title since the 1977 season by taking down rival The Citadel by a 31-17 score at Foster Stadium April 17. As the SoCon champions, the Keydets earned an automatic bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs for the first time in program history. The Military Classic of the South victory also ensured that the Silver Shako will stay in Lexington as VMI has won two straight contests over the Bulldogs.
“We started at the bottom, and now we’re at the top of the SoCon. I couldn’t be more proud of our football team. It’s a great feeling, and I’m thankful for General Peay and Doctor Dave Diles believing in me after the 0-11 season a few years ago. I’m thankful for Major General Wins, because we win with Wins,” said Scott Wachenheim, head coach, after the game.
Looking back to his beginnings at VMI, Wachenheim said: “When you look back at my opening press conference back in 2015, I said, ‘Look, you’ve got to be patient. This is going to be taking some time.’ We have to recruit players. At VMI, we don’t get grad transfers or junior college transfers. We have to recruit freshmen, and there’s a learning curve on figuring out the kids who are going to make it here. I always thought we could do it, and I believed it. Tom Clark, the only assistant who has been with me for six years, I knew he believed it, too. After we went 0-11, there were times I prayed to my Lord and asked, ‘Lord, why did you bring me here? Did you bring me here to fail?’ I have to give God all the glory, and he renewed my strength. He helped me to move forward and to make the right decisions, and he gave us some players that could make plays.”
The Keydets successfully defended the Silver Shako trophy for the first time since 1995 and 1996 and defeated the Bulldogs in Lexington for the first time since 2000. For a complete game wrap-up, go to vmikeydets.com.
The Keydets, ranked No. 11, were matched against the No. 1 James Madison University Dukes, one week after beating The Citadel. The Big Red ended their stellar season with a 31-24 loss to the Dukes in Harrisonburg April 24. You can read the full game summary here.
“I’m very proud of the VMI football team. We fought and we never said die. We competed to the very end,” said Wachenheim.
The team ended the season with numerous awards, including:
• Jakob Herres ’22 (first team offense), Stone Snyder ’23 (first team defense), and Robert Soderholm ’22 (first team special teams) named to the Stats Perform FCS All-America teams
• Herres named offense end Player of the Year for state Division I colleges and universities
• Morgan named National Freshman of the Week
• Wachenheim named AFCA Region 2 Coach of the Year
• Wachenheim named Stats Perform Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year
• Wachenheim named Bobby Ross Coach of the Year
Several Keydets were also finalists for different awards. Read more about these awards and everything VMI football-related at vmikeydets.com.
This year’s team was no ordinary group of athletes, Wachenheim said. “This team has the most talent since I’ve been here. This team loves each other, and that can’t be overstated. They truly love each other, and they hold each other accountable. They stand strong and firm during the darkest times, and they work with a great attitude. They’ve dodged all the curveballs that COVID-19 has thrown us this past year, and they back each other up. That’s what has made this team special.”
The final FCS Top 25 was announced May 17; VMI football landed at 12th. This is the Keydets’ first ranking at the end of the season since 1957. The 2021 season begins at home Sept. 4 versus Davidson.