CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Western Carolina scored the first two touchdowns of the second half and held off a spirited VMI rally to hand the Keydets their second-straight heartbreaking defeat in Southern Conference football action, 52-50, Saturday afternoon in Cullowhee, N.C.
With VMI trailing by eight points, 45-37, WCU intercepted a Reece Udinski pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown and the game looked bleak for the Keydets down 52-37, but VMI refused to fold.
Udinski led VMI on a 9-play drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass to junior Javeon Lara to cut the Catamount lead to 52-44, and just one play later the Keydets got the ball back when redshirt freshman Collin Loftis intercepted a pass to set VMI up at its own 38-yard line.
Fifteen plays later, the Keydets found the end zone again. Udinski fired a scoring strike to freshman tight end Jakob Herres from 12 yards out to pull VMI to within 52-50 with just 22 seconds remaining in the contest. The 50 points scored was the most for VMI since totaling 52 against Davidson in 2014.
VMI fell short on its bid to tie the game, however. Udinski’s two-point pass fell incomplete, and WCU escaped with the victory.
After setting a career-high in passing last week against East Tennessee State, Udinski rewrote the VMI record books Saturday against the Catamounts, setting new single-game marks for completions, attempts and yards. The sophomore went 43-for-72 through the air for 491 yards and four touchdowns in the game.
Lara was his favorite target, snagging nine passes for 143 yards, both career bests, and a pair of scores as nine different Keydets recorded receptions. Sophomore Kris Thornton finished with eight catches for 82 yards, and junior running back Quan Myers had seven grabs. Devone Humphrey hauled in six passes.
The game was a shootout from the beginning. The two teams exchanged touchdowns early in the contest, but VMI took the lead in the second period when Myers, who led VMI with 76 rushing yards on 23 attempts and scored a one-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, scored the second of his three touchdowns from a two yards out. Reed King added the PAT kick, and the Keydets had a 21-14 advantage.
The Catamounts tied the game again when quarterback Tyrie Adams hooked up with Daquan Patten for a 32-yard TD pass with just over three minutes to play before intermission.
Adams passed for 229 yards and three touchdowns against the Keydets in addition to rushing for 117 yards and a score.
After an exchange of punts, the Keydets took over at the WCU 48-yard line with just 1:20 remaining before the break. Five plays later, VMI found itself at the Catamount 19, from where junior Grant Clemons booted a 36-yard field goal to give the Keydets a 24-21 halftime advantage and set up the second-half fireworks.
With the loss, VMI falls to 0-4 on the season, 0-2 in conference play. Western Carolina improves to 3-0, 1-0.
After playing three of its first four games on the road, VMI gets four of the next six games in Lexington, beginning with next Saturday’s conference matchup with Mercer. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Foster Stadium.
Coach Wachenheim Quotes:
"I am very proud to be head coach of this football team. I loved the way they fought and never quit. Even when they (Western Carolina) went up by two scores in the game, we knew we could drive it down and score. The defense came up with a big pick and we came down and scored and just missed the two-point conversion.
“Reece Udinski played outstanding and our wide receivers did a good job fighting. Quan Myers was excellent and our kicking was much better. I was proud of the way we fought but sad we couldn't come away with the victory."