Keydets 2-0 on the Gridiron

football players being tackled

VMI upset No. 10 Furman, 14-13, in the home opener Feb. 27.

The Keydets are 2-0 on the gridiron. The Big Red started out the season with a 14-13 win over Furman at home and kept the momentum going March 6 with a 30-7 victory over Western Carolina—in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

March 6: VMI 30, Western Carolina 7

Looking to start league play 2-0 for the first time since 2005, the VMI football team defeated host Western Carolina by a 30-7 score March 6 at E.J. Whitmire Stadium in Cullowhee, North Carolina. The win gave the Keydets (2-0, 2-0) their first victory in program history in the city of Cullowhee and marked the first time defeating Western Carolina since 1991, snapping a 17-game losing streak to the Catamounts.

VMI senior quarterback Reece Udinski ’21 finished the game completing 30 of 41 passes for 239 yards, marking his 20th career game throwing for more than 200 yards. The Keydets ran the ball for 199 net yards led by Korey Bridy’s [’22] 91 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The Keydets built a 13-0 lead by halftime following a six-yard rushing touchdown by Bridy in the first quarter and two Jerry Rice ’23 field goals in the second. Rice would finish the game a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts as he proved successful on a season-high 32-yarder in the fourth quarter to put VMI up, 30-0.

VMI struck early in the third quarter as Udinski connected with Jakob Herres ’22 on a 17-yard touchdown pass to put VMI up 20-0 at the 12:01 mark of the third stanza. The Keydets went on another scoring drive late in the third quarter that set Bridy up for a 1-yard run to put the game out of reach at 27-0 with one quarter remaining. The Catamounts (0-6, 0-3) avoided a shutout by scoring on a Mikai Stanley 5-yard run for the game’s final tally of 30-7.

VMI earned 33 first downs to Western Carolina’s 11 and finished with 492 yards of total offense to 256 for WCU. The Keydets also dominated the time of possession battle with 36:01 to Western Carolina’s 23:59. The Keydets were successful on seven of 16 third-down conversions and a perfect 3-3 on fourth down attempts. Moving the ball effectively up field, the Keydets wound up scoring on six of seven red zone chances.

Defensively, the Keydets were led by Connor Riddle ’21 in tackles for a second straight week as he finished with eight. A.J. Smith ’21 and Abdul Jawara ’24 both finished with five takedowns while Ethan Caselberry ’22 had three tackles, one interception, and a pass breakup.

The Keydets return to Southern Conference action March 13 at home as they play host to the Mercer Bears. Kickoff is slated for a 1:30 p.m. start at Foster Stadium.

Scott Wachenheim, head coach, postgame quotes:

“I’m very excited—it’s the first time we’ve ever won in Cullowhee. It’s the first time we’ve beaten a Western Carolina team since 1991. I thought the players stepped up and played really well. Our defense was outstanding and shut them down in the first half. We were able to run the ball on offense which we needed to do this week. I’m very happy with the way we played.

“We had players get on the field for the first time. I thought Seth Morgan [’23] came in and did a nice job and extended some plays for us. It was great to give him some more game experience. We had more running backs get in and Abdul Jawara [’24] came in and did a nice job at middle linebacker. That will help us as we move along in the season.

“We were moving the ball up field but penalties hurt us early in the game so we weren’t able to sustain drives. Our defense stepped up and played well for the shutout in the first half and continued to play well in the second half.

“Ethan Caselberry [’22] is an incredible player and is playing with a lot of confidence right now—I was happy to see him get that interception.”

Feb. 27: VMI 14, Furman 13

The VMI football team scored one of the biggest wins in program history Feb. 27 with a 14-13 upset of No. 10-ranked Furman University in Foster Stadium. The Southern Conference contest was the season opener for the Keydets. VMI’s last win over a ranked opponent was in the 2002 season, a 27-16 victory over No. 18 Wofford College and the team’s last season-opening win was in the 2010 campaign.

VMI took a 14-13 lead with 17 seconds left in the third quarter on a three-play, 86-yard touchdown drive. Senior quarterback Reece Udinski ’21 completed a 57-yard pass to true freshman Rashad Raymond ’24 to set up a Udinski to Chance Knox ’22 touchdown strike from 19 yards out. Trey Rice ’23 knocked in the PAT to give the Keydets the lead. 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 with 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.

The Keydets registered nine sacks on the day, many off the blitz. Riddle had a team-high 13 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks. Stone Snyder ’23 had 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and 11 total stops, while Ethan Casselberry ’22 recorded 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks. Carter Johnson ’22 had nine tackles, one sack and pounced on the late Furman fumble to seal the win. 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 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 ’23 caught three balls for 35 yards. Furman got on the scoreboard first 3:53 into the contest on a Hamp Sisson to Wayne Anderson pass. Udinski hit Michael Jackson ’22 on an 11-yard score at the 4:17 mark of the second quarter to tie the game at seven. Furman 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. Furman (1-1) held a time-of-possession advantage, holding the ball for 36:31 and had four drives of eight plays or more. Sisson was 17-of-26 for 232 yards but was sacked nine times on the afternoon. Devin Wynn gained 93 yards rushing on 21 carries and Devin Abrams carried the ball 14 times for 47 yards. Ryan DeLuca hauled in seven passes for 149 yards.

Scott Wachenheim, head coach, postgame quotes:

Effort of the Front 7:

“They played great. I was definitely surprised—Furman is really good up front. They have excellent offensive line coaches. 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. Defense late in the game: I thought we had them but then they hit that crosser for a big play and they were in field goal range. I never thought the game was in the bag.”

On Furman’s late fumble and playing to the end of the game:

“We were playing and praying. 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.”

On defeating the No. 10 team in the country after missing fall football:

“The leadup to it shows the resiliency of our players. 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. We redesigned all our practices then came back for the spring season in the freezing cold conditions. We had some COVID-19 opt-outs then we had some guys get COVID-19. 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 ballgame. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

On Reece Udinski and the final touchdown drive:

“Reece never surprises me with his ingenuity. He’s decisive and accurate and unbelievably tough. 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.”

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