LEXINGTON, Va. - The VMI defense forced four turnovers, a season-high, and Al Cobb threw for two touchdowns and ran for another to lead the Keydets past the Furman Paladins, 31-15, in Southern Conference football action Saturday at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Va. It was VMI's first SoCon football win since Nov. 16, 2002, and was the first Keydet win over Furman since the 1979 season, breaking a 21-game VMI losing streak to the Paladins.
The Keydets (2-8, 1-4 SoCon) took a commanding 17-0 lead into halftime, but the second half story was the defense, which forced three fourth quarter turnovers to quell any hopes of a Furman (2-7, 1-3) comeback as the Keydets broke their six-game losing skid. The Paladins, meanwhile, dropped their seventh in a row, their longest losing streak since the 1972 season.
Alijah Robinson and Damian Jones had interceptions early in the final period, but it was Greg Sanders who sealed the VMI win. With just over two minutes to go, Sanders picked off PJ Blazejowski to ensure that the Keydets would triumph. It marked the third consecutive game with an interception for true freshman Sanders, and the three interceptions equaled VMI’s most in a single game since Oct. 23, 2010, when the Keydets logged four against Charleston Southern.
Offensively, Cobb went 24 for 37 for 239 yards and two touchdowns, the completions giving the Keydets a single-season record for team completions. Cobb also set the VMI record for most pass attempts in a season (350), surpassing Al Comer’s 348 in 1985. The redshirt freshman also ran for a career-high 49 yards on 11 carries and helped his team to a startling 12 of 19 effort on third-down conversions.
The cool, blustery fall day got started with a slow first quarter. Dillon Christopher booted a 21-yard field goal for the game’s first points late in the opening period, giving the Keydets a 3-0 advantage.
That lead expanded midway through the second period. Ryan Francis forced a Blazejowski fumble that Joe Nelson recovered, and the Keydets promptly went 41 yards in six plays. Dane Forlines made a 19-yard touchdown catch on 3rd and 14, and after a Christopher point after, the Keydets led 10-0.
VMI added on at the end of the period, thanks to one of its longer drives of the season. A 12-play, 84-yard drive pushed the VMI margin to 17, helped by a key play on 3rd and 10 early in the effort. Cobb ran 20 yards on a scramble and drew a personal foul penalty as well, tacking on another 15 yards and moving the Keydets into Furman territory. A 30-yard pass to Deon Watts set up the Keydets with a first and goal at the two, and two plays later, Cobb scored on a quarterback sneak to make it 17-0, Keydets at halftime. It was the first time VMI had blanked an opponent in the first half since Nov. 2, 2013 at Liberty.
After a key dropped pass on third down of the opening Furman drive, the Keydets got the ball at the 12:09 mark and promptly went 55 yards in the next nine plays. Another third down conversion, this one to Sam Patterson, was the key play and Jabari Turner capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run, giving the Keydets a 24-0 edge with just over nine minutes to go.
The Paladins got on the board on their next drive, as Blazejowski found Chad Scott for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 4:55 left in the period to cut the VMI lead to 24-7. The touchdown for Furman ended a scoreless drought of 120:12, dating back to the team’s game two weeks ago at South Carolina.
The Keydets seemed to put the game away early in the fourth quarter. The teams traded turnovers early in the period, as Cobb was intercepted by Marcus McMorris at the 9:35 mark, but Blazejowski gave the ball right back with a pick of his own just one play later. The VMI interception was returned to the Furman 16 by Alijah Robinson, and just two plays later, Cobb found J.C. Garvin for a 14-yard touchdown and a 31-7 VMI lead.
Damian Jones picked off the Furman quarterback on the Paladins’ next possession, but VMI could not take advantage. After a muffed punt gave the visitors excellent field position, they quickly took advantage. A Blazejowski 28-yard touchdown to Duncan Fletcher cut the margin, and ensuing two-point play by the same combination, made it a 31-15 game with 4:53 showing on the clock. Aaron Sanders recovered the onside kick, however, and after a final VMI punt, Sanders quashed a 53-yard Furman drive with his game-clinching interception.
Francis finished with 12 tackles, 2.5 for loss, for the Keydets, while Forlines tied his career-high with five catches. Blazejowski finished 20 of 37 with two touchdowns and three interceptions for the Paladins. The Keydets held Furman to 299 yards of total offense, the lowest output by a Keydet opponent since Gardner-Webb had 295 last Nov. 9.
Following a bye week, VMI football will return to action Nov. 15, taking on Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C. Game time is set for 2 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Sparky Woods
"When you beat Furman, you've done well. I've been involved in a lot of Furman games and they're hard to beat, and I know they're suffering with the season they're having but they have a good team. That front was hard for us to block and they get after it and they're tough, and they're still Furman. I want to commend them on the effort they brought with coach Fowler and their staff. They'll be tough. They'll be back. We watched them go into overtime with Coastal Carolina and watched them play Western Carolina really well. They have a great program."
"I'm really proud of our team. I thought it was a team victory. Our defense showed up with people making those turnovers, the defensive backs going after the ball and pressuring their quarterback. We knew they're a team that likes to run the ball and stop the run and they did a nice job stopping the run, however we made some, we kept trying to hang in there so we could. ... I think our defense did a nice job stopping the run, and then getting those turnovers. I thought we took care of the ball a little better and we were able to convert some passes."
On scoring in the third quarter
"I thought the score in the third quarter was huge. We came out with the lead and our defense made a stop, we got the ball back and went down and scored. I thought that was huge and for us, it's not something we've done a lot of here. I thought that was big. It was the ultimate team victory. The kids played hard and the defense got the ball away from them and special teams was flying around."
On kicking game
"We had that one bad snap and I thought Hayden (Alford) did a remarkable job going back to get the ball and trying to get it off there. He was punting well all day long. I thought the wind was a factor in terms of the kicking game in terms of kickoffs, never the less, we covered their returns decently. We were down there when they got the opportunity to run it back and we made some plays there."
On practice this past week
"I'm grateful for our coaching staff. They maintained work at practice this week. It was unbelievable by our players, our demonstration squad, everybody is just so committed to VMI to make sure we put together a good football program for this great school. This is a day I think we'll look back and say we got a little start going right here in a big way."
On getting to the bye week
"November is big for us. We know we have a week off. This was 10 straight games and we need get the week off to get our legs back under us. And then we have a tremendous task of going and playing Western Carolina ... And then we finish up here with The Citadel so we have a lot of football in these next three weeks to prepare for and we can do something to really propel us forward. We need to seize the opportunity."