LEXINGTON, Va. - Justin Wilson had 110 yards receiving, including the third quarter touchdown that gave the Delaware State Hornets the lead for good, helping the visiting DSU squad to a 24-21 win over the VMI Keydets Saturday afternoon at VMI's Foster Stadium in Lexington. The game was the season opener for both teams.
With the game tied at 14 midway through the third period, DSU quarterback Nick Elko found Wilson on a deep route near the left hash mark. The redshirt junior made the catch at the 15 yard line and outran the VMI defense to the goal line, putting the visitors up 21-14. A Mitchell Ward field goal pushed that lead to 10, and the Hornets survived Chaz Jones' third touchdown run of the game to win by three.
The loss ended a streak of six straight season-opening wins for VMI, a run that dated back to 2005, and it was the Keydets' first home loss in a season opener since 2000. Jones had three rushing touchdowns for the Keydets, the second time in his career he accomplished that feat, after also doing so last season at Charleston Southern. VMI quarterback Eric Kordenbrock went 22 for 43, tying the fifth-most pass attempts in school history, while Chris Harper and A.J. Gross led the way defensively, making nine tackles apiece.
Travis Tarpley had 174 all-purpose yards for DSU, while Wilson caught six passes to account for his 110 yards through the air. Hornets' quarterback Nick Elko was 17 for 32 for 232 yards and three scores.
Delaware State won the coin toss and chose to receive on the warm, clear day, but Demetri Phillips forced a fumble on the return. Miguel Marshall pounced on the loose ball at the Hornets' 11, and three plays later, Jones scored from a yard out to give VMI the early edge. A Jeff Sexton PAT made it VMI 7, DSU 0 less than a minute into the season.
After the Keydet defense forced a punt, the VMI offense took over at its own 14. The first play was a Kordenbrock pass that was batted in the air and intercepted by Brandon Harvey, leading moments later to an Elko touchdown strike that put the visitors on the board. A missed PAT allowed VMI to maintain its advantage, 7-6 at the 12:03 mark of the first quarter.
That play would cap the first quarter scoring, as the teams combined to punt the ball six times the remainder of the period, including a 65-yard boot by DSU's Marko Kano.
The home team put together another scoring drive at 10:14 of the second quarter, as it took over at the DSU 47. Jones accounted for the first 33 yards on the drive, and then capped the effort when he plunged into the endzone from two yards out. He was hit at the one by Harvey, fumbled the ball, but then fell on his own miscue for the touchdown and a 14-6 VMI lead.
The Hornets came right back, as Elko found Wilson for a 28-yard strike, setting up the same tandem for a seven-yard TD just two plays later. Tarpley then caught the ensuing two-point try, and the five-play, 56-yard drive tied the game with 4:27 left in the half. Neither team could mount a serious threat over the rest of the half, and contest went to the intermission deadlocked at 14.
Jones ran for 61 yards in the first half, while Kordenbrock went 10 for 18 to lead the VMI offense. Byron Allen had four stops over the first 30 minutes for the Keydet defense. The halftime story, however, was the weather, as shortly before halftime, the skies began to darken due to an approaching thunderstorm. Just before the start of the third quarter, the teams were pulled off the field and the stadium was cleared due to lightening, leading to a 68-minute weather delay.
Once the third quarter did get underway, it started with a very unorthodox play, as Kordenbrock was intercepted by Matt Spicer of Delaware State on the opening play. Spicer then fumbled the ball while being hit by Tracy Hairston, and D'Angelo Smith recovered to give the Keydets the ball once again.
VMI could not take advantage of the opportunity, and after an exchange of punts, mounted another try. Kordenbrock drove his team 51 yards in 10 plays, setting up a 4th down from the DSU 12. Sexton came on to try a field goal, but misfired wide left and the game remained tied, 14-14.
The Hornets took advantage, as Elko found Wilson for a quick first down. One play later, Jaashawn Jones marched 20 yards down the far sideline, setting up Wilson's decisive touchdown catch that gave Delaware State the lead for good, 21-14. The final drive of the quarter belonged to the visitors as well, as a spurt sparked by a Elko-to-Tarpley 37-yard connection moved DSU into position for a field goal. Ward converted the 24-yard try 2:09 into the fourth quarter, putting the Hornets up 24-14.
VMI marched back down the field once again, stringing together an 11-play, 71-yard drive that included five Kordenbrock completions, none bigger than a 40-yard strike to Trent White on 3rd down and 14. Jones ended the effort with a four-yard TD run, and Sexton's PAT made it 24-21, VMI, with 7:38 remaining.
The Keydets then kicked the ball off, and DSU ran the clock down with an eight-play drive, covering just 28 yards but burning 4:47 before they were forced to punt. The final VMI drive started at its own 20 with 2:51 remaining, but three incompletions and a pass for no gain led to a turnover on downs, and the Hornets ran out the clock to earn the 24-21 win.
The two teams were very evenly matched statistically, as DSU had 346 total yards to VMI's 340. The Hornets threw for 232 yards, while VMI accounted for 227 yards through the air, and the teams were within one yard on the ground as well, with DSU holding a 114-113 edge. In addition, the Keydets committed three turnovers to the Hornets' two. In addition, VMI held just a 14-second lead in time of possession, 30:07 to 29:53.
VMI will be back in action next Saturday, hosting perennial FCS powerhouse William & Mary. Opening kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Sparky Woods
"I think that they just made a few more plays than we did. Credit them, they have a big, strong athletic football team and I thought their quarterback threw the ball well and their running backs ran the ball hard. The two key plays that stick out were our first big kick-off return. When we got the ball back, we threw a really bad interception on a tipped ball."
"We missed our field goal, they made theirs and then they drove the ball 80-yards and scored and we just ran out of time. We have potential to be a pretty good football team, but we just have catch more passes that could have turned into first down or positive yards."
"Tracy Hairston made a couple great catches and Chaz Jones ran the ball well. They were determined to keep us from running the ball, and we need to throw the ball better when that happens. Defensively, we needed to rise to the occasion, and our coverage and returns were average, and we need to make field goals from shorter distances."
"The delay had the same effect on both teams. We kind of sat down and got our thoughts together. That has happened to us in practice plenty this year, and I don't see it as a reason to lose a game."