MOREHEAD, Ky. - On a night when the offense struggled, VMI’s football team decided to get a little defensive.
The Keydets, who were forced to wait out inclement weather that delayed the game for over an hour, never trailed but twice had to come up with stops as Morehead State was driving for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter to preserve a 17-13 victory Saturday night in Morehead, Ky. The 13 points were the fewest allowed by a VMI defensive unit since 2013 as the Keydets picked up their first win of the season.
With VMI nursing that four-point advantage in the final period, the Eagles drove all the way to the Keydet 33-yard line. That’s where linebacker Ryan Francis collided with Morehead State running back Trevor Jones, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Allan Cratsenberg.
That was the third fumble of the game forced by the VMI defense, with the Keydets recovering two of them. It was also the fourth turnover of the season for the Keydets, who were a -15 in the turnover battle last year but enjoy a +3 margin over the first two contests this year.
VMI’s offense went three plays and out after the fumble recovery, and the defense had to come up big one more time. And it did just that, forcing three straight incompletions and an Eagle punt with 2:33 remaining.
Francis finished the game with eight total tackles and the forced fumble, while Greg Sanders recorded 10 stops for the Keydets.
Needing a first down to seal the win, VMI got one of its biggest offensive plays of the game in the waning moments. Facing third-and-six with 2:21 still to play, quarterback Al Cobb connected with tight end Ryan Swingle for 10 yards and a first down, allowing the Keydets to run out the clock for the victory.
Saturday was a struggle for Cobb, who needed just 178 yards to break VMI’s record for career passing. The redshirt junior signal caller connected on just 17 of his 37 attempts for 148 yards, but he did throw a pair of touchdowns to stake the Keydets to a lead they would not relinquish.
The first of those TD tosses came to open the second quarter as Cobb found senior Dane Forlines for a 43-yard score, and with freshman Reed King’s point-after kick, VMI had a 7-0 lead. The second touchdown pass came on VMI’s next possession, with Cobb hooking up with senior Aaron Sanders, who broke VMI record for receptions last Saturday, for 12 yards and 14-0 VMI advantage.
Sanders added to his record against the Eagles, hauling in nine catches for 62 yards and the touchdown, while Swingle and Forlines finished the game with three receptions apiece. VMI finished the game with 186 rushing yards, with freshman Daz Palmer leading the way with 86 yards on 19 attempts.
Jones got the Eagles on the board with a 16-yard TD run late in the second quarter, but King extended the VMI lead to 17-7 with a 22-yard field goal at the 11:07 mark of the third period, Morehead State made things interesting when Austin Gahafer tossed a 17-yard pass with just over nine minutes to play, but the extra-point snap was botched, setting up VMI’s late defensive heroics.
With the win, the Keydets improved to 1-1 on the season and will take a week off before returning to action September 24 at Bucknell to close out a three-game road swing to start the season.
Quotes – VMI Head Coach Scott Wachenheim
“Proud of the young men, it's our second road win in the last six years. A big accomplishment. Hats off to Morehead State to come back off a defeat to JMU two years in a row. They are a good football team.”
“I thought our defense stepped up and played well all night. We had zero turnovers on offense and I thought our special teams came up big. We just made enough plays on offense to score enough points and run the clock out at the end. The flat pass to Ryan Swingle late in the game was probably as big a play as there is. Proud of the team and the win and we have a lot of things to work on obviously.”
VMI Quarterback Al Cobb
"Coach (Dustin) Ward and all the quarterbacks work on that throw everyday in practice. The touch throw like that and putting it over the shoulder. Every single day. We got (Ryan) Swingle in the flat and the outside defender came down and started to hold him and then let him go and Swingle got right behind him. I just had to make a touch pass to him."