CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Despite a 14-point lead in the first half, the VMI football team came up a little short of its first victory of the season as host Chattanooga built enough defense to hold off the Keydets, 34-27, Saturday evening at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Keydets (0-8, 0-7 SoCon) took the early lead when redshirt junior Quan Myers capped a 13-play, 70-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Then, just over a minute later, sophomore linebacker Tyren Cloyd intercepted a Chattanooga pass and returned it 29 yards for a score. The PAT kick from junior Grant Clemons gave VMI a 14-0 lead with 6:38 remaining in the first quarter.
The Mocs (6-2, 4-2 SoCon) got on the board when quarterback Nick Tiano completed a 64-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Nunnelly to trim the VMI lead to 14-7. But the Keydets responded with another long drive.
Marching 79 yards in 13 plays and chewing up over five minutes of the game clock, the Keydets found the end zone again, with sophomore quarterback Reece Udinski finding freshman wideout Jakob Herres for a 7-yard touchdown pass. The Clemons kick put VMI back in front by two touchdowns, 21-7, with just five seconds gone in the second period.
Chattanooga scored the next two touchdowns of the half to tie the game, 21-21, at intermission. After the break, the Moc defense took over.
Udinski was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the first play of the third quarter, and VMI managed just three first downs until a late touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. For the game, the Mocs recorded seven quarterback sacks and held VMI to only seven plays and zero total yards in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Chattanooga, which held the ball for over 14 minutes on its two second-half scoring drives, took the lead when Tyrell Price plunged into the end zone from five yards out. Alex Trotter added a 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to give the hosts a 34-21 advantage.
VMI made it interesting late in the game. Going 91 yards in just over two minutes, the Keydets cut the lead to seven points when Udinski connected with sophomore wide receiver Devone Humphrey on a 2-yard touchdown pass with just over a minute remaining in the game. But Chattanooga recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to preserve the victory.
Udinski enjoyed another big day for the Keydets, completing 29 of 52 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once, and with the seven sacks, VMI was held to -16 yards rushing.
Two VMI receivers went over 100 yards in the game. Herres hauled in seven passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Kyle Thornton caught nine balls for 116 yards and a core. With his effort, Thornton extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 15, and he also went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the year.
Chattanooga, which held the ball for over 35 minutes in the contest, was led by Tiano, who completed 21 of his 35 passes for 285 yards and a pair of scores. Nunnelly caught seven of those aerials for 130 yards.
The Keydets return home next Saturday to face Tusculum in Lexington. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Foster Stadium.
- - Six of the seven UTC sacks came in the second half
- - Jakob Herres had a career-high 118 yards receiving
- - Kris Thornton moved past the 1000 yard receiving mark and now has 1065 yards.
- - Reece Udinski earned his 5th career 300-yard passing game and has 18 touchdown passes this season, just two shy of Al Cobb's 20 TD passes in 2014
Head coach Scott Wachenheim quotes
"Our players played extremely hard and we came out and had a good, fast start. Again, UTC is an excellent football team and has won a lot of close games. You've got to give credit to Tom Arth and his staff. But I like the way we fought on defense and really did a good job stopping their running attack against a big, strong offensive line and a really good back. Offensively, Reece Udinski and Jake Harris continued to impress, as well as Kris Thornton. The way we throw and catch the ball, we're always in every game and the team fought for all 60 minutes and we believed we had a chance to win until we didn't recover the onside kick at the end.
"That was a great pick and interception return by Tyren Cloyd. That was an outstanding play and I can't wait to see it on film. Tyren has been getting better each and every week.
"In the second half, they did grind the ball a little bit and we didn't possess the ball as much as we would have liked.
"I'm excited about back-to-back home games with Tusculum and Furman. I think Tusculum will be a challenge and is a very good team and well-coached. I look forward to getting back to Foster Stadium next week."