VMI’s bid to clinch the SoCon football title will have to wait for another day. Behind a 135-yard rushing effort from redshirt junior running back Quay Holmes, East Tennessee State University defeated VMI 24-20 at Foster Stadium April 3 and handed the Keydets their first loss of the season. The Keydets can still win their first conference football title if they can defeat The Citadel in Lexington April 17.
Holmes scored on a four-yard rush with 12:26 left in the fourth quarter that put the Bucs up for good in a game that had three lead changes. VMI jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead on a Seth Morgan ’23 two-yard touchdown run to open the scoring at 10:29 of the first quarter and added a 27-yard field goal by Jerry Rice ’23 at the 4:07 mark. Morgan was 7 for 7 for 74 yards passing and found wide receiver Jakob Herres ’22 four times for 72 yards on the opening drive of the game.
The Bucs got on the board with a nine-play, 70-yard drive capped by a Holmes one-yard dive into the end zone with :21 left in the first quarter. A 29-yard strike from ETSU quarterback Brock Landis to Will Huzzie to the VMI 3 set up the score. The Keydets answered with a 17-play, 76-yard drive and added another 20-yard field goal by Rice to extend the margin to 13-7 with 9:25 left in the second quarter. The Bucs pulled within 13-10 before halftime when they effectively converted third and fourth down conversions to salvage a 27-yard field goal by Tyler Keltner. ETSU opened the second half with a 51-yard kick return by Holmes aided by a forward fumble recovered by the Bucs at the VMI 31 and punched it in the endzone seven plays later when Landis hit Huzzie on a 9-yard slant in the endzone to give the Bucs their first lead of the day, 17-13 just four minutes into the second half. ETSU’s second drive of the half started at the VMI 42 following an interception by Alijah Huzzie, but the VMI defense came up with a stop as Keltner’s 35-yard attempt was wide left.
VMI marched 80 yards on the ensuing drive and retook the lead, 20-17, following a three-yard touchdown rush by Grant Swinehart ’24 with 1:58 remaining in the third quarter. Morgan completed six of seven passes for 61 yards and ran for 14 more in keying the scoring possession. ETSU answered right back with a drive that would put them up for good—nine plays and 69 yards—following Holmes’ second touchdown of the afternoon.
VMI threatened but could not retake the lead as its final three possessions of the fourth quarter ended on downs, a punt, and a fumble at the ETSU 35. Morgan, making his second college start, turned in another 300-yard passing game after completing 36 of 46 passes for 315 yards. Herres added eight catches for 101 yards while Chance Knox ’24 caught seven passes for 64 yards. VMI outgained the Bucs, 382-275, and generated 24 first downs, but was limited to 67 yards rushing. Landis completed 11 of 27 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown to lead ETSU to its third straight win. The VMI versus The Citadel game April 17 at Foster Stadium will kick off at 1:30 p.m.
VMI Head Coach Scott Wachenheim quotes:
“Congratulations to ETSU. They won a hard-fought game and they did a good job of running the football. They made some critical third and fourth down plays [on] offense. Defensively, they took us off balance a bit by changing between man and zone coverage. I thought we handled it well for most of the game. In the end, in a championship game you need to find a way to make one more play than the opponent does but today ETSU found a way to make one more play than us. On VMI’s fourth quarter possessions, we put ourselves in a position to win the game on our final drives and our defense put us in a position to win by getting the ball back. I’m proud of the way the team fought. They never say die and they kept battling. ETSU found a way to make a play. They made big sacks and we had some self-inflicted wounds that they took advantage of. They made one more play than we did. Hats off to ETSU. Coach Sanders put together a great game plan and his team executed it well on the road. It was a big-time win for their program.”
On ETSU’s defense:
“ETSU has the best defense in the league. I said it before the game, and I still believe it after the game. They have some really good players. They have speedy players in the secondary, and they know how to play in man coverage and in zone. They did a good job of changing up their coverage. Sometimes we didn’t execute well, and that’s on us. Their defensive coordinator has been there at least six years and does a heck of a job. I’m very impressed with their defense. They’re talented with their personnel. We didn’t get many short fields. We had to go the long, hard way for most of the day. The one short field we did get, we didn’t take advantage of. We’ll learn from our mistakes, and we’ll get better.”
On Seth Morgan [’23]:
“Seth played extremely well. We’ll have to take a look at the film. Nobody plays perfect. We’ll watch the film and see how he can keep improving, but I thought he played extremely well. He got hit a few times pretty hard, but he got up and made the next play and he gave us a chance to win the game. I’m very proud of the way Seth played. On moving forward, I don’t know if we control our destiny or not. I really don’t in a season such as this. We’re going to play The Citadel, and it’s for the Silver Shako. One of our purposes every season is to win the Silver Shako. Coach Sanders said ETSU might try to schedule another game. I don’t know how the people above me will decide who wins the conference or who doesn’t. All I know is that we have an open week, we’re going to use it to get better, and that we’ll learn from today’s game. We’re going to put all our eggs in the basket to beat The Citadel. After that, we’ll let the people above us decide what happens.”
In late March, junior wide receiver Herres ’22 was named both the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Week and Stats Perform National Offensive Player of the Week for his outstanding play in the 36-31 win over Wofford in Spartanburg, South Carolina, March 27.
He was awarded the SoCon honor March 29 and received the Stats Perform national honor the next day. Herres’ recognition is the second time the Keydets have earned a national weekly honor this season as senior Connor Riddle ’21 achieved National Defensive Player of the Week honors March 1.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published at vmikeydets.com, where you can find updated athletics schedules, articles, box scores, and more.