LEXINGTON, Va. - Down 41-20 at the end of the third quarter, the VMI football team rallied to cut the Mercer advantage to 41-38 with two minutes remaining but could not quite pull off the comeback as the Bears escaped with a 48-38 victory Saturday afternoon at Foster Stadium.
The VMI (0-5, 0-4 SoCon) defense started the rally with a Chuck Weatherman safety with just under 10 minutes left to play. In the ensuing possession the Keydets executed an 8-play, 67-yard drive in 2:22 as sophomore quarterback Reece Udinski found freshman Jakob Herres in the endzone to cut the Bear lead to 41-30.
The Keydets forced a punt on Mercer’s possession and took the ball with under 5:00 left and drove down the field for another score, this time with Udinski finding Kris Thornton for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap a 6-play, 75-yard drive.
Mercer was able to recover a VMI onsides kick and took a short field to work with to their advantage as Tyray Devezin put the game away with a 34-yard touchdown scamper up the middle to clinch the Mercer victory.
Udinski finished the game with 434 yards passing going 37-for-70 on the day. All three totals were the second-best marks of his career following last week’s performance at Western Carolina. On VMI’s first touchdown of the day he connected with Javeon Lara for a 59-yard strike, the longest pass play to this point of his VMI career.
Thornton and Lara earned career highs in receiving yards as Thornton totaled 155 yards on the day and Lara tallied 150 receiving yards. Lara and junior Rohan Martin also earned career highs in number of catches with 10 and 7, respectively.
Mason Dermott had a strong day on special teams as he returned six kickoffs for a total of 162 yards including returns of 34 and 49 yards. With the totals he became VMI all-time career leader for the category in both kickoff return yards (2,233) and career kickoff returns (104).
The Keydets look to take a week off to heal with a bye week next Saturday, Oct. 6. VMI will return to the field on Oct. 13 with a SoCon away game at Samford at 3 p.m. in Birmingham, Alabama.
Quotes from VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim:
“I’m very proud of this football team and the way that they played for all four quarters. We just made too mistakes to defeat a good Mercer team.
“Mercer has two tough running backs and although they lost their starting quarterback last week, new starter Kaelan Riley was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year last year, so we knew it would be tough going in. Give credit to the Mercer Bears - they executed better than we did in key situations.
“We struggled to get touchdowns in the red zone offensively, and we need to convert third and fourth downs.
“Even when we got down three scores, I always knew we had the potential to come back. One of our core values is grit, and grit means resiliency in adverse conditions. We aren’t going to back down from any challenge. We learned last week against Western Carolina when we were down 15 points with six minutes left that we can score fast. Today we were behind three scores; we scored fast, got a two-point conversion and were right back in it. Our guys made some big-time plays - Mercer just made one or two more this afternoon.”