CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - VMI’s valiant comeback attempt came up short, and the Keydets fell to a ranked Southern Conference football foe for the second straight week, dropping a 30-13 decision to #8 Chattanooga Saturday afternoon in Chattanooga, Tenn.
After the VMI (3-4, 1-3) offense sputtered in the first half and the Keydets spotted the Mocs a 17-0 lead, VMI tried to get back in the game, twice cutting the Chattanooga (7-1. 5-1) lead to 10 points.
The Keydets needed just one play and only 11 seconds to score midway through the third quarter as quarterback Al Cobb connected with Javeon Lara for a 79-yard touchdown pass. And when Reed King, who missed a field goal earlier in the quarter, booted the extra point, VMI cut the deficit to 17-7 with 9:34 remaining in the period.
Chattanooga answered, driving 65 yards in seven plays to extend the lead again, with Richardre Bagley taking an option pitch and racing 27 yards for the score. VMI blocked the extra-point try, but the Chattanooga lead was still 23-7.
VMI wasn’t done, however. The Keydets marched 82 yards to reach the end zone again, getting a little help from a big Chattanooga penalty.
On first-and-goal from the Chattanooga 1-yard line, Cobb fumbled the ball into the end zone on a quarterback sneak, with the Mocs apparently recovering for a touchback. But Chattanooga was whistled for offsides on the play, giving VMI one more chance. And Cobb took advantage of it, racing to the corner of the end zone for the rushing touchdown, and though the two-point conversion failed, the Keydets had trimmed the margin to 10 points again, 23-13, with 2:29 still to play in the third quarter.
The Keydets could get no closer, however. Chattanooga twice stopped VMI on fourth-down tries late in the game, and the Mocs added an insurance score with a 45-yard run from Bagley to provide the final margin.
Third and fourth down conversions proved elusive for VMI all day. The Keydets were a mere 2-for-14 on third down in the contest and managed just one fourth down conversion in four attempts.
In fact, it was hard to get anything going for the VMI offense as the Chattanooga defense, ranked nationally in most defensive categories, bottled up the Keydet attack in the opening half. Though VMI finished the game with 249 yards in the game, the Keydets managed just 39 total yards in the first half and finished the contest with only 11 yards rushing. VMI did wind up with 13 first downs and nearly 200 yards passing in the second half however, en route to the comeback attempt.
Cobb completed 18 of his 35 passing attempts for 238 yards and a touchdown, but he was pressured all day and was sacked six times.
Aaron Sanders extended his streak to 33 straight games with a catch after hauling in seven passes for 61 yards. Dane Forlines caught five passes for 47 yards.
Defensively, VMI was led by linebackers Allan Cratsenberg and Ryan Francis, who totaled 14 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Chattanooga piled up 519 total yards in the game. Bagley carried the ball 23 times for 189 yards, while quarterback Alejandro Bennifield was 21 of 33 passing for 224 yards and a touchdown.
The Keydets return home for the third of only four home games on the schedule to take on Furman. Kickoff for the Southern Conference battle at Foster Stadium is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Scott Wachenheim
"We talk to the team before the game about 'where there's a will, there's a way'. They as players are responsible for the will and we as coaches are responsible for creating an environment where it's conducive to people playing with a high will. I thought you saw that. The fight back by the team against a three-time SoCon champion, it shows that we are VMI, and we never say die."
"We told them this week it was going to come down to blocking and tackling. Obviously, 11 yards rushing on offense shows we didn't do a great job blocking in the game. We have to do a better job training our guys on blocking. Defensively, I thought we had a really good plan and we missed some tackles against some big strong players. We have to do a better job hawk tackling at their hips and wrapping up, and getting those players on the ground. That would have made the game even closer."
"I am really proud that it was a two-score game in the fourth quarter and we had a chance to win the game, but once again didn't convert a crucial fourth down play."