Keydet Football: ETSU Win, Fall to No. 2 Furman

With a 31-24 win over East Tennessee State University, the VMI Keydets fought hard and outscored the Bucs in the second half of the game Nov. 4, 2023.—Photo courtesy VMI Athletics.


Outscoring the Bucs 17-0 in the fourth quarter and 24-14 in the second half, the VMI football team pulled out a gritty road win at East Tennessee State University Nov. 4, 2023.

The victory, the fourth all-time for VMI in Johnson City, gives VMI a four-win season for just the fourth time in the last 15 years.

“We fought really hard. I’m really proud of our perseverance and our leadership,” said Danny Rocco, VMI football head coach. “It would have been easy to get down and feel sorry for ourselves, but we opted not to do that … I thought it would be a competitive game, and I’m proud of the way we fought and finished.”

Key Stats

  • VMI scores season-high 31 points in victory, 330 total yards with 223 coming in the second half with a perfect 4-for-4 on red zone attempts.
  • ETSU has a total of 424 yards with 286 on the ground, led by Trey Foster’s 173.
  • Hunter Rice ’25 (47 yards) records his ninth touchdown in the last four games (11 touchdowns on the year), which is Rice’s fifth multi-touchdown performance of his career and fourth of the season.
  • Collin Shannon ’26 records the first 200-yard passing game of his career in his second start of the season.
  • Ivan Thorpe ’26 registers first touchdown of career to go with 47 yards, and Aidan Twombly ’24 leads receivers with 71 yards on four catches.
  • Eric Rankin ’25 leads the defense with 12.0 tackles, while Dorien Starnes ’25 has 7.0 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery.
  • Alex Oliver ’24 forces and recovers a fumble to go with 3.0 tackles.
  • Caden Beck ’25 hits a 46-yarder and is 4-for-4 on points after the touchdown.
  • Austin White ’24 records his first interception of the season, the fourth of his career.

Catching up with Coach (Rocco)

On the Quarterbacks

“We wanted to see what it looked like if Shannon had a full game. So, we remained patient there, and in a lot of ways—this may sound odd—but Collin Ironside [’24] was just phenomenal all week in terms of being humble and a servant leader. He didn’t change one thing this week in his preparation and was side by side with Collin Shannon [’26] all week and all day.”

On the Team Effort

“We played a more complete game today. Defensively, they ran the ball against us too easily, which is concerning. That’s what they do well, but we have to get some of that fixed. Offensively, we put together some good series, and we made a few kicks today.”

How it Happened

First Half

  • The two sides trade possessions throughout the first quarter, including a White interception, which helps leave the game scoreless through one.
  • Oliver forces a fumble to start second, and Starnes recovers to set up a 3-yard rushing touchdown for Rice (7-0, 10:08 second quarter after 11-play, 47-yard drive).
  • ETSU responds with a touchdown (7-7) followed by a Shannon interception, which sets the Bucs up in plus territory, but the Keydet defense holds ETSU to a field goal as VMI goes into the break trailing by three (7-10).

Second Half

  • The Keydets fumble on their opening possession, but the defense got the ball back with a goal-line stand. After a three and out, ETSU cashed in with a 32-yard touchdown run (7-17, 6:20 third quarter).
  • Shannon and the offense responds with an eight-play, 75-yard drive, resulting in Rice’s second touchdown of the day (14-17).
  • ETSU answers with 64-yard rushing touchdown, taking a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
  • VMI remains disciplined, as Shannon hits Thorpe for 12-yard touchdown to make the deficit just three with 12 to play (21-24).
  • Keydets force a fumble, Beck hits from 46-yards to tie game with 9:49 to play.
  • After just four plays, VMI defense forces a punt, as Shannon and the offense take over with 7:40 to play, culminating in the go-ahead touchdown from Rice (31-24).
  • ETSU marches all the way down to the seven, but four straight incompletions end the game.


The VMI football team took on the Southern Conference leader and nation’s No. 2-ranked team, Furman, falling by a 37-3 score at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, Nov. 11.

Already having clinched a piece of the SoCon title last week with a win over No. 13 Chattanooga, the Paladins (9-1, 7-0) claimed the outright league title and automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with today’s win over VMI, which falls to 4-6 overall and 3-4 in conference.

Key Stats

  • Furman earns 351 yards of total offense, including 226 through the air, while holding VMI to 30 rushing yards on the day.
  • VMI offense struggles to stay on the field, finishing 2-12 on third down conversions. Furman also forces two VMI turnovers—one fumble and one interception.
  • VMI allows eight sacks on the afternoon as Furman earns a total of 12 tackles-for-loss, totaling 77 yards.
  • Shannon finishes 14-27 for 148 yards and one interception.
  • Rice ends up with 47 rushing yards on 15 carries, and Thorpe leads the receiving corps with 48 yards on three receptions.
  • Furman’s Carson Jones, quarterback, finishes 18-23 for 226 yards and four touchdowns.

Danny Rocco, Head Coach

“We got off to a bad start. I was expecting us to play a lot better than we did today. I give Furman a lot of credit. They are well-coached and have a lot of senior leadership. They have over 40 players who are seniors or graduate students. They’re a good team, certainly the best-looking team in our league, and they played like it today.

“We never got in sync offensively and didn’t protect our quarterback very well. Collin Shannon didn’t make good decisions, and he didn’t get the ball out on time. It was uphill all game. The defense fought hard and made some key stops. They had a blocked punt, which allowed the game to get away from us. We could never reel them back in after that.

“We’ve got one more chance this season to get things right and finish the season on a good note next week against Western Carolina.”

Game Summary

The Paladins scored 17 points in the opening quarter and tallied 17 more in the second to build a 34-0 lead by halftime. Furman scored on its opening drive with a 14-yard touchdown reception by Mason Pline at the 11:07 mark.

After holding VMI to a three-and-out, the Paladins scored on their next drive with a 27-yard field goal by Ian Williams to go up 10-0 with eight minutes to play in the opening period. Carson Jones then found Nick Cannon for a 34-yard touchdown reception on the ensuing Furman possession.

In the second quarter, Jones hooked up with Luke Shiflett for a 12-yard touchdown reception with five minutes left before the break to put Furman up, 24-0. The Paladins tacked on another touchdown with under two minutes left; Dean made a 34-yard touchdown grab before Williams kicked a 49-yard field goal with four seconds on the clock before halftime.

VMI locked down on defense in the second half to hold the Paladins to just one field goal over the final two quarters. Williams made a 36-yard field goal at the 6:30 mark of the third quarter.

The Keydets avoided a shutout with a 27-yard Caden Beck ’25 field goal late in the fourth quarter for the game’s final score. The kick capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive to end the game on a positive note for VMI.

Editor’s Note: These articles were first published at