Historic Season Ends

Historic Season Ends

KEYDET DEFENSIVE lineman Warren Dabney battles a JMU player for a loose ball. (VMI photo by Randall Wolf)

Historic Season Ends

VMI SOPHOMORE wide receiver Max Brimigion makes a 2-yard catch to score the final TD of the game with nine seconds left, leaving JMU safety Wayne Davis watching. (VMI photo by Randall Wolf)

Historic Season Ends

FAITHFUL VMI fans endure the rain as they applaud their team for a strong performance against JMU and a remarkable season. (VMI photo by Chuck Steenburgh)

VMI Falls To No. 1 JMU 31-24 In FCS Playoffs

The Virginia Military Institute football team concluded a historic season with a 31-24 road loss to top-ranked James Madison University (6-0) in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in the rain on Saturday afternoon.

The 11th-ranked Keydets (6-2), who won their first Southern Conference title since 1977 this season and had their first winning season in 40 years, were making their first playoff appearance in program history. VMI trailed 21-3 at halftime before cutting the deficit to seven with just over two minutes left in the game, but JMU recovered an onside kick attempt by the Keydets and held on for the victory at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg.

The Dukes advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals where they will play host to North Dakota on Sunday.

Down 31-17 with 2:18 left in the game, the Keydets made a furious attempt to rally. They completed a 12-play. 75-yard drive in 2:09 to cut the deficit to 31-24, but the final onside kick attempt by VMI failed.

VMI junior wide receiver Jakob Herres finished the game with 13 grabs for 171 yards, marking his fifth straight 100-yard receiving game and 12th of his career. He also had a touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter, which was the 21st touchdown reception of his VMI career to move him past Mark Stock’s all-time program record of 20 from 1984-88.

VMI redshirt freshman quarterback Seth Morgan completed 30 of 50 passes for 286 yards and two touchdown passes, marking his fourth straight game with over 200 yards through the air since taking over the reins of the offense.

After forcing a punt on JMU’s first possession, VMI took quick action as freshman receiver Chance Knox took a reverse for 63 yards down the sideline to the JMU 11-yard line. The drive ended, however, when a Morgan pass was intercepted in the end zone to give the ball back to the Dukes at their own 20-yard line.

On VMI’s next possession, Morgan faked a fourth-and-1 and pooch punted the ball that was downed at the JMU 1-yard line. Unfazed, JMU running back Jawon Hamilton took the ensuing handoff and sprinted 99 yards down the JMU sideline for the Dukes’ first score of the game to give JMU a 7-0 advantage at the 6:13 mark of the opening quarter.

The Keydets responded quickly as Morgan connected with Herris for a 37-yard pass play that gave the Keydets the ball at the JMU 31-yard line. The drive was stalled by the JMU defense to set up a 44-yard field goal for VMI freshman Jerry Rice, who nailed the kick for a new career-high distance and cut the JMU lead to 7-3 with 4:11 in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, JMU running back Percy Ogyei-Obese capped an eight-play, 83-yard drive with a 2-yard rush up the middle to increase the Dukes’ lead to 14-3 with 10:54 before the half.

On the Keydets’ ensuing possession, Morgan was picked off by JMU DB Taurus Carroll at the JMU 23-yard line. The Dukes took advantage of the turnover and went down the field to eventually score on a 10-yard TD reception by receiver Kris Thornton to give JMU a 21-3 lead going into the break.

Early in the third period, VMI forced a JMU punt that Knox caught at the VMI 15-yard line with a JMU interference penalty. Shortly after that, Morgan connected with Michael Jackson on a 4-yard catch that resulted in a JMU personal foul, advancing the ball to the JMU 44. Morgan then connected with Herres on a 25-yard pass and a 12-yard pass moments later. Morgan would eventually score on a 1-yard bull rush to cut the JMU lead to 21-10 with 6:29 to go in the third quarter.

JMU responded with Johnson connecting with Antwane Wells for a 62-yard touchdown reception to put the score at 28-10 with 3:20 to play in the third quarter.

On the ensuing VMI drive, Morgan hit Herres on three separate occasions, including a fouth-and-2 conversion, to set up an 11-yard touchdown grab in the corner to cut the JMU lead to 28-17 with 13:43 left in regulation. Morgan also had a 9-yard rush and 15-yard flea flicker to Knox on the drive.

The Keydets forced a punt on JMU’s next possession following an 8-yard sack by Jordan Ward. Misfortune struck again when JMU defensive lineman tipped up a Morgan pass to himself and made the interception to give the ball back to the Dukes at the VMI 30 with 9:03 to play.

VMI struck back when Ethan Caselberry picked off Johnson in the end zone to give VMI the ball back trailing 28-17 with 6:13 on the clock. The Dukes held VMI to a punt on the possession, however, to put a halt to the VMI comeback attempt.

The Dukes would go down the field and convert a 32-yard field goal by Ethan Ratke to extend the Dukes’ lead to 31-17 with 2:10 left.

VMI linebacker Stone Snyder, who was named the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year earlier in the week week, finished with a gamehigh 12 tackles. VMI’s Connor Riddle and A.J. Smith finished with 11 takedowns apiece, and sophomore Josh Sarratt ended up with nine.

“I’m very proud of the VMI football team,” said head coach Scott Wachenheim after the game. “We fought and we never said die. We competed to the very end. James Madison is a tremendous football team. The difference in the game was the turnover battle, which JMU won. Our kids fought extremely hard. Our defense got much better in the second half. They’ve got some really talented backs and we struggled tackling them in the first half. Our defensive coaches made some great adjustments to tackle their ball carriers with more efficiency.”

Wachenheim, concluding his sixth season of coaching the Keydets, received the Bobby Ross Coach of the Year award as Virginia’s top Division I college football coach. He was also named Southern Conference Coach of the Year for the second consecutive year.

For more on the Keydets’ season and statistics from the final game, visit www. vmikeydets.com.

The News-Gazette

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