Two Weeks In: Big Red 1-1 in SoCon

The Keydets achieved a 17-14 victory over Wofford College with Hunter Rice ’25 totaling 90 yards on the ground and passing for a touchdown along the way at Foster Stadium Sept. 23, 2023.—Photo courtesy VMI Athletics.

Wofford, Sept. 23 (17-14 W)

The VMI football team played host to Southern Conference foe Wofford Sept. 23, grinding out a 17-14 victory in rainy conditions at Foster Stadium.

“I think it’s really big for this program, our team, this season,” Danny Rocco, head coach, said of the win. “We needed to break through; we did. … It’s hard to win in this league; that’s the one thing I’m most excited about—getting a conference win. Being at the FCS level the last 17 seasons, this is pretty cool.”

Hunter Rice ’25 was the story of the game offensively, totaling 90 yards on the ground, rushing and passing for a touchdown along the way. As a team, VMI—who moves to an even 2-2 on the season (1-0 SoCon)—committed just one penalty all afternoon.

Key Stats

  • Rice rushes and throws for a touchdown to go with 90 total yards on the ground
  • VMI defense forces and recovers two fumbles and totals 64 tackles
  • Aidan Twombly ’24 hauls in second touchdown reception of the season
  • Chance Knox ’24 has five catches and 42 yards
  • Evan Eller ’24 leads defense with 11.0 tackles and a forced fumble
  • Josh Knapp ’24 (5.0 tackles) and Jabari Haslem ’25 (4.0 tackles) each force a fumble
  • Jack Culbreath ’24 punts nine times, pins the ball inside the 20 six times (47.9 average)
  • Caden Beck ’25 goes 2-of-2 on PAT and hits a 25-yard field goal
  • Wofford outgains VMI 343-216; Keydets rush the ball 51 times
  • VMI commits just one penalty all game (5 yards)

Catching up with Coach Rocco

On the Weather

“As the game went on, it got worse and worse. Traction was tough. We started missing tackles because we weren’t coming to balance, weren’t under control, and they had that long run, which is insane, but we just couldn’t change direction, and he outran us to the goalpost.”

On the Turnovers

“We hadn’t got the breaks you normally get so far in the season—the ball has been on the ground this year, we haven’t gotten it; a ball gets tipped, and the other team gets it. It was just kind of an odd start to the season. … We hit the football out a couple of times (today). We were active to get to the football and took the ball away a few times.”

A Closer Look

A big kick return from Wofford set up a touchdown run from Ryan Ingram as the Terriers jumped in front 7-0 in the first. On the ensuing VMI possession, Collin Ironside ’24 hit Knox for a 24-yard reception, and Rice punched in a seven-yard score.

The Keydets would get the ball on their own 47 with two minutes left in the half, marching down to the five before an interception was negated by a hands-to-the-face call, setting up a Rice jump-pass to Twombly to make the score 14-7 after 30 minutes.

Near the midway point of the third, Haslem forced another fumble, as Knapp recovered on the Wofford nine, leading to a Beck field goal (17-7). With just over seven to play, Ingram ripped off an 83-yard score to make the deficit just three. As Wofford threatened, the VMI defense forced a field goal attempt, leading to a bad snap in the wet conditions as the Terriers came up empty.

With 2:20 remaining, Wofford advanced the ball for the VMI 33-yard line, but the pressure from the Keydets forced an intentional grounding that resulted in a 10-second runoff and a VMI victory.

Mercer, Sept. 30 (38-3, L)

Coming off a big conference win over Wofford at home the previous week, the VMI football team took to the road to face SoCon foe Mercer but came up on the short end, 38-3, Sept. 30 at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia.

VMI (2-3, 1-1) got behind early and struggled to maintain pace with the host Bears (3-2, 1-1) as Mercer finished with 401 yards of total offense spurred by 298 yards on the ground. Ironside, Keydet quarterback, finished with 176 yards through the air but was sacked three times and picked off once while the Bear defense held VMI to 42 net rushing yards.

Key Stats

  • With his 40-yard reception in the second quarter, Knox, receiver, now has over 2,000 career all-purpose yards
  • Beck, kicker, kicks a career-high 46-yard field goal in the third quarter
  • V.J. Johnson ’24, receiver, ties a career-high four grabs on the day
  • On the defensive side, Eller finishes with 12.0 tackles, and Knapp is right behind with 11.0

Catching up with Coach Rocco

His Thoughts Following the Game

“It was a really disappointing afternoon of football for us. We got outplayed and outcoached. We got off to a bad start, which we talked about all week longthe need to get off to a fast start. We were minus three in the turnover margin, and we gave up a punt return for a touchdown. You’re not going to beat anybody playing like that. We played poorly in all three phases.”

On the Bye Week

“We have an open date, which is a good thing. It’s a good time. We need to take a step back and reassess what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with, then move forward with passion and focus. The Citadel game will be very meaningful for our program, the institution, and for our season.”

A Closer Look

Mercer got on the board quickly on the first play from scrimmage when Al Wooten II rushed around the corner for a 76-yard touchdown run for a quick 7-0 lead for the Bears.

In the second quarter, Mercer registered two scores, the first coming off a Tyrell Coard 8-yard rush at the 5:21 mark just before Devron Harper had a 33-yard touchdown reception from Carter Peevy to put the Bears up 21-0 going into the break.

Early in the second half, Harper scored again for Mercer when he housed a 73-yard punt return at the 13:18 mark of the third quarter for a 28-0 Bears advantage.

Beck put VMI on the board moments later (11:03, 3rd quarter) with a career-high 46-yard field goal conversion to avoid a shutout. The drive was fueled by kick returner Ivan Thorpe’s 45-yard return to the VMI 48, followed by a 33-yard reception from Ironside to Isaiah Lemmond to the Mercer 19.

The Bears would add one more touchdown midway through the third quarter and a short field goal early in the fourth for the game’s final score.

What’s Next?

VMI had a chance to recuperate and heal with a bye Oct. 7. The Keydets return to action Saturday, Oct. 14, at rival The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published at