Keydets win 46-45 Thriller over Samford

Sports

LEXINGTON, Va. – Trailing 38-20 at the half, the VMI football team made a furious second-half comeback to earn a 46-45 victory over visiting Samford University Saturday afternoon at Foster Stadium.

VMI (6-2, 4-1) made defensive adjustments at the half to allow just 122 total yards of offense to the Bulldogs (3-5, 2-4) after giving up 425 in the first half. VMI’s 516 yards of total offense during the game is the most ever for a single game in school history. Keydet quarterback Seth Morgan finished the game going 27-41 for 463 passing yards, second most for a single game in program history.

Senior Michael Jackson, who received the game winning seven-yard touchdown grab with 3:14 to play to put VMI up, 46-45, finished with 10 catches for 211 yards, which is the fifth most for a single game in program history. Fellow receiver Leroy Thomas logged nine catches for a career-high 143 yards to also aid VMI’s come-from-behind win.

After forcing a VMI fumble at the Samford one-yard line, the Bulldogs built a 10-0 lead midway through the opening period following a 26-yard Zach Williams field goal and Jay Stanton 25-yard touchdown rush on the ensuing possession.

The Keydets quickly struck back with a 6-play, 73-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard Korey Bridy touchdown rush to make the score 10-7 for Samford.

After a Montrell Washington 3-yard touchdown scamper to open the second quarter, VMI responded with a 34-yard touchdown strike to Jakob Herres to trim the Bulldog lead to 17-14. The Bulldogs went quickly down the field again to score on a Liam Welch one-yard touchdown run before VMI countered with a 30-yard Jerry Rice field goal to make the score 24-17 for Samford.

Samford’s Washington again scored on a three-yard run on the next Bulldog possession to put the score at 31-17 with 4:05 before halftime. Samford forced a VMI punt, which Washington returned 67 yards to the VMI 12-yard line to set up another short field for the Bulldogs. QB Liam Welch capitalized and eventually scored on a one-yard TD dive for a 38-17 lead over the Keydets with 1:48 on the clock.

VMI quickly drove down the field and put Rice in position to kick a 32-yard field goal with two seconds to go, which he converted to make the score 38-20 at the half.

The Keydets received the opening kick of the third quarter and took the ball down the field in 4:54 to score on a Max Brimigion four-yard pass from Morgan to cut the deficit to 38-27 at the 10:06 mark.  Later in the quarter, Samford would score on a Jay Stanton one-yard rush to up the Bulldog lead to 45-27, their final score of the contest.

VMI countered with a scoring drive that took only 3:33 to complete that resulted in a Rashad Raymond two-yard rush in the corner of the end zone after taking a pitch from Morgan to make the score 45-34 for Samford.

At the 9:42 mark of the fourth quarter, VMI scored on a Hunter Rice two-yard bull rush up the middle to cut the deficit to 45-40.

After forcing a punt, VMI earned a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive that resulted in the game-winning reception to Jackson as he snuck a foot inbounds as he caught it and shoved out of the end zone with 3:14 left in regulation.

The Keydets caused a turnover on downs in the following Samford drive as Welch’s pass to Chandler Smith was jarred loose by Ethan Caselberry. Samford quickly caused a VMI punt with 2:04 remaining to get the ball back, but the Keydets’ Alex Oliver forced a fumble by Samford’s Michael Vice that was recovered by Caselberry at the Samford 34-yard line with 1:48 to go. VMI knelt the final few plays to hold on for the win.

VMI returns to action next Saturday on the road for a crucial SoCon matchup with fellow league leader ETSU, which had a bye this weekend. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Postgame quotes – VMI Head coach Scott Wachenheim

“What a fantastic come-from-behind win. I’m very proud of the team. They didn’t stop believing. Really excited for our defense shutting them out in the fourth quarter after giving up a lot of points prior to that. They made great throws and catches. Both quarterbacks played A+ level – zero interceptions in that game. Their offense is a really tough offense to stop, it’s a tough match-up for us because we’re a team that likes to load the box and play man coverage. I thought we kept believing and played our best offense in the second half and the fourth quarter was just awesome to watch, especially the Ethan Caselberry hit to turn that into an incompletion late in the game and the Alex Oliver strip and fumble and recovery by Ethan (Caselberry).

“Those were two huge plays in the fourth quarter. The offense played great all game. Seth (Morgan) had an outstanding game not only throwing but running and kept the sticks moving. Michael Jackson continues to dominate with 10 catches and a TD. I thought Leroy Thomas was tough to tackle. I don’t know how many yards he had after catch – but nine catches, 143 yards – great job. The biggest thing is we were 3-for-3 on fourth down. If you don’t make a fourth down conversion, it’s almost like a turnover. The fake punt was a huge momentum changer for us – we had been practicing that for over two years – Ethan Casselberry told me I’d never call it but we finally did. Ethan made the play go and our kids blocked it well.”

“In my first four years, if we had played this game, we would have gotten blown off the field but these players have totally changed the culture of our team and they played it like a championship game and to come from behind like that I thought they showed true championship character. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, which I told the team as well: We know who we have next week which is ETSU,  the highest ranked team in the SoCon.”  

VMI QB Seth Morgan on the reason for the comeback win

“I think the character of our team and we’re a very resilient group of people. I think some of the stuff that goes up on the hill has something to do with that – I think the school kinds of prepares us for situations when you’re down and out – just stay focused and stay determined for times like this when you can become resilient and come out on top. We knew we just had to keep doing our job and take what the defense gives us and when shots are called, deliver. We just needed to keep doing that and trust our defense that they were going to make some stops which they did in the second half.”

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