ETSU’s hopes of opening the Southern Conference football schedule with a win were delayed, and eventually denied, in a heartbreaking 31-24 overtime loss to the Keydets on Saturday night — and Sunday morning — at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium.
The game’s start was delayed because of lightning for 67 minutes, and the teams experienced another delay of 65 minutes with 5:11 left in the second quarter. From scheduled start to finish, the marathon lasted five hours and 36 minutes. The game ended at 1:08 a.m.
“I don’t think we handled it as well as we needed to,” said Bucs’ head coach Randy Sanders. “Some of our guys did and some didn’t. That comes a little bit with maturity. It’s our job as coaches to get them to grow up.”
ETSU fell to 1-2 on the season while VMI improved to 2-1.
VMI went first and struck on third down. Javeon Lara caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Reece Udinski to put the Keydets ahead 31-24.
Udinski finished with 38 completions in 64 attempt for 281 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
ETSU had its chance and kept the drive alive with a fourth-down conversion pass to the VMI 5-yard line. However, the Bucs lost a yard on a first-down running play. Three incomplete passes followed, the last one touching off a celebration by the VMI players and coaches.
The fourth quarter brought out the offense.
ETSU took a 14-10 lead with 10:29 remaining when Trey Mitchell painted a masterpiece of a pass to Anthony Spagnoletti in the back of the end zone from 20 yards out.
VMI erased the deficit with an 11-play, 75-yard drive. Alex Ramsey capped it off by leaping into the air and breaking the plane of the goal line from 1-yard out.
ETSU responded quickly as Jacob Saylors ripped off a 61-yard speed burst down the sideline for a 24-21 lead.
VMI did what it needed to tie the game, driving deep into ETSU territory and settling for Grant Clemons’ 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in regulation.
HOME FIELD DISADVANTAGE?
Because of the length of the delays and the stormy weather, ETSU lost home-field advantage in terms of fan support. The last 35 minutes of regulation plus the overtime were played in front of a mostly empty stadium. It was a vast departure from what could have been a packed house of 9,150.
BUCS STRIKE FIRST
ETSU got on the board in the second quarter. Keith Coffee got wide open down the sideline and Mitchell hit him for a 57-yard touchdown. Coffee sidestepped a would-be tackler near the 5-yard line to finish off the big play.
ETSU was leading 7-0 and had momentum on its side when another lightning delay hit in the second quarter. But VMI used the extra time to regather.
The Keydets drove 65 yards to tie the game with two critical plays making it happen. On third and nine from the ETSU 37, Udinski hit Jakob Herres on a misdirection throwback for a 24-yard gain.
On the next play, Udinski hit Rohan Martin, who made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone.
After an ETSU punt, the Keydets went to work again. They went 59 yards in just four plays, going deep into the bag of tricks. Leroy Thomas took a lateral from Udinski and threw it back to Udinski, catching the Bucs off guard for a 30-yard gain to the Bucs’ 14-yard line.
Three plays later, Ramsey barreled into the end zone for a 14-7 VMI lead.
The Bucs put together their own nice drive midway through the third quarter. A holding period interrupted the potential touchdown march, and the Bucs eventually settled for Tyler Keltner’s 37-yard field goal to make it 14-10.
Both team’s offenses started like they were still in a delay. Neither team made any kind of serious threat to score.
Part of the reason for the offensive sluggishness was good defense, especially the hard-hitting variety offered by ETSU. Bucs’ defenders made several big-boy hits during the first 15 minutes.
VMI managed just one first down while the Bucs totaled four. The yardage reflected those stats with VMI totaling 19 yards on 15 plays. ETSU had 69 yards on 15 snaps. The teams combined for six first-quarter punts.
Saylors led the Bucs in rushing with 112 yards on nine carries. Holmes added 13 attempts for 89 yards.
Mitchell was 17 of 38 passing for 250 yards and two scores.
For VMI, Ramsey carried 16 times for 57 yards while also catching 11 balls for 56 yards.
ETSU steps back outside of league action as it plays host to Austin Peay on Sept. 21. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.