Late Touchdown Lifts VMI to Victory Over Davidson in Rocco’s Debut

Coach Danny Rocco and coaching staff and referee on football sideline

“It really meant a lot,” said Danny Rocco, head coach, of VMI football’s first win of the season.—Photo courtesy Chuck Steenburgh ’86.

Trailing 7-6 with one minute to play, Collin Ironside ’24 found V.J. Johnson ’24 for a 25-yard touchdown as the VMI Keydets topped Davidson 12-7 in Foster Stadium Sept. 2, 2023.

Ironside and VMI would get the ball back with 4:19 remaining, hitting Aidan Twombly ’24 on third and long to keep the drive alive, ultimately leading to the score from Johnson. Minutes later, Alex Oliver ’24 intercepted Luke Durkin to seal the game for VMI.

The victory gives VMI a 1-0 start on the season and marks the first win at VMI for Danny Rocco, head coach.

“It really meant a lot,” Rocco said of the win. “It’s been six or seven months. We’ve put in a lot of work. And you could tell the team was making improvements.”

Key Stats

  • Johnson catches 25-yard game-winner
  • VMI defense limits Davidson to just 184 yards, and Oliver’s interception seals win
  • Ironside, offense total 410 yards and two touchdowns (Swinehart, Johnson)
  • Chance Knox ’24 leads VMI receivers with five catches, 64 yards; eclipses 1,000 receiving yards for career
  • Grant Swinehart ’24 has a touchdown and 22 yards rushing
  • Eric Rankin ’25 leads Keydets with 14.0 tackles, Evan Eller ’24 totals 11.0
  • Rashad Raymond ’24 rushes for 62 yards, and Keydets total 171 on the ground

A Closer Look

The Keydets defense opened the game with a three and out, but turnovers would keep the game scoreless well into the second quarter. With four minutes to play in the second, VMI forced another three and out, and the offense capitalized as a Swinehart 14-yard rush game, giving VMI a 6-0 lead after 30 minutes of play.

The Wildcats stole the momentum in the third, getting the ball just a couple of minutes into the quarter, and made their way down the field, scoring with 3:32 remaining in the period.

In the fourth, Ironside found Twombly for a 3rd-and-17 conversion to keep the drive alive, but VMI would miss a field goal attempt and give the ball back to Davidson.

The teams traded possessions with VMI taking over at the 4:19 mark on its own 15. Much like the last possession, the Keydets faced a 3rd-and-long once again, with Twombly converting—this time hauling in a 28-yard reception. Two plays later, Johnson would take in the go-ahead score. The VMI defense would hold strong, forcing Davidson to burn its last timeout with eight seconds to play, ultimately closing the game out with a pick from Oliver.

Catching up with Coach (Rocco)

“All things considered, defensively, we played a really good football game … Offensively, we sputtered a bit in the second, but, fortunately, we were able to put a big drive together at the end of the game.”

On Coach Abell and Davidson

“I give Coach Abell a lot of credit. I’ve said this for a long time. He’s a really [good] coach. Sound on both sides of the ball. His kids are tough. And his culture believes that they are going to win. They have this belief, and it’s evidenced in the number of wins they’ve had in the last seven years.”

On what Rocco was thinking down the stretch:

“I recognized that our opportunities were going to become minimal the rest of the way, and we’re going to have to take advantage of those opportunities … I had to start thinking about managing the game. Our defense rose up when they had to.”

For more details about players and game statistics, click here.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published at