LEXINGTON, Va. - The VMI Keydets took full advantage of five turnovers and 13 penalties by the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, and led wire to wire in a 27-9 Keydet win in Big South football action Saturday afternoon in Lexington, Va. The victory came in VMI's final Big South football game, prior to next year's jump to the Southern Conference, and the five turnovers were the most forced by VMI in the Sparky Woods era.
The Keydets (2-8, 1-4 Big South) jumped ahead on the first Gardner-Webb (5-5, 0-3 BSC) drive of the game, when the visitors had the ball at their own nine-yard line. A botched snap went into the endzone, and Weston Reber fell on the loose ball for a VMI touchdown and a 7-0 Keydet lead. That was the first of three GWU fumbles, all of which were lost, and quarterback Lucas Beatty was also intercepted by Miller Williams and James Fruehan en route to the VMI win.
In the victory, the two teams combined for just over 500 total yards of offense in what was a defensive struggle. Derrick Ziglar led the Keydets with 117 all-purpose yards, 94 of which came on the ground, and VMI was victorious despite going just 9 of 20 through the air.
After the game's opening touchdown, the Keydets got the ball right back when John Washington forced a Juanne Blount fumble on the second play of GWU's next drive. Logan Staib fell on it, and the Keydets cashed in with a 39-yard field goal by Dillon Christopher for a 10-0 lead.
The Runnin' Bulldogs got on the board late in the opening period, as they took advantage of a Ziglar fumble to score on a 32-yard field goal by Jordan Day that made it 10-3 after one quarter.
VMI added on midway through the second, when on a deep fade, Beatty was picked off by Fruehan. The Keydets promptly marched 50 yards in eight plays, and Ziglar took it in from four yards out to make it 17-3, VMI.
The next Gardner-Webb drive may have been the game's most critical, as down 14, GWU marched 75 yards in 12 plays. Beatty ended the drive with a completion to Demarcus White, but as White stretched for the touchdown, he coughed up the football at the goal line. Alex Keys forced the miscue that resulted in a touchback, and the Keydets took a 17-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. It was the fourth time this year VMI had led at the break, and they would quickly add on in the third.
GWU had the ball first in the second half, but went 3 and out and had to punt. The kick, however, went just six yards and VMI seized the opportunity. Two minutes later, Christopher booted through a career-long 52-yard field goal to make it 20-3. The kick was the longest since 2004 for the Keydets and tied for the fourth-longest in school history.
The VMI lead grew once again with 1:38 left in the quarter, as A.J. Augustine found Sam Patterson for a 26-yard touchdown that made it 27-3. It was the seventh touchdown grab of the year for the sophomore and wrapped up the VMI scoring. Gardner-Webb found the endzone for the first time in the fourth, with a four-yard touchdown run by Blount.
Kenny Cook was the star for Gardner-Webb, as he hauled in 12 of GWU's 26 completions for 133 yards on the day. Gardner-Webb's streak of not having won a conference road game since Oct. 22, 2011 continued with the setback.
VMI football will return to action next Saturday, as the Keydets face The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Action will get underway at 1 p.m.
Quotes - VMI Head Coach Sparky Woods
I want to commend Gardner-Webb for working hard throughout the entire game. They just kept fighting and fighting. I think they have a talented team. Remember: this team has beaten Wofford, Furman. They have beaten some good teams. We're happy to finish out the Big South Conference with a win.
I'm proud of our football team. They've shown great character, as you would expect at VMI. They've taken responsibility. I was really proud of our defense. You don't see many good teams that aren't stingy on defense. And we were that today. I think we've gotten better each week. Our coaching staff hung in there and was positive with the guys. Our kicking game has improved as well. I was happy for our team to win; happy for all of VMI.
I'm really proud of AJ (Augustine). He's been here awhile, he stayed here and kept working and led our team to a big victory in our last Big South game.
They have a good defensive front. We struggled to block them early. We were kind of ragged on offense; we had a lot of penalties, but we were stingy on defense in the red zone. We took the ball away and scored on defense.
On defensive improvement
It shows character on how they kept working at it. I think our secondary has improved, we had a lot of pressure on their quarterback. We stopped the run, or limited their ability to run the ball. Our guys made the plays.
These players want to win. They feel such a responsibility to VMI and wanting to win. So when you think like that, it's easy to play to not lose, play to not mess up. Players tend to do that, no one coaches them that way, but subconsciously, you could freeze on a play trying to not mess up.
I thought we played loose today; we saw the ball, we went and hit the ball. We didn't hesitate or worry about the things that weren't happening but we attacked the things that were happening. We ran to that ball, we saw it and we attacked it. I think that confidence will carry over into the rest of the season.