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VMI misses a couple of crucial field goals after tying the game in the last second of regulation.
Chuck Steenburgh | VMI
VMI wide receiver Matthew Nicholson (right) hauls in a 39-yard pass as Robert Morris safety Marcelis Branch defends. The catch tied the score at 31 with 1 second remaining in regulation.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
LEXINGTON — It was yet another trip to Heartbreak City for VMI’s football team and its faithful Saturday afternoon.
Hoping to take advantage of a Charmin-like schedule that included an opening three-game stretch of nonleague home games that appeared very winnable a month ago, the Keydets came out of the trifecta 1-2 after bowing 37-31 to Robert Morris in double overtime in front of 4,821 disappointed fans at Foster Stadium.
After watching Robert Morris erase a 24-14 lead in the second half with 17 unanswered points, VMI freshman receiver Matthew Nicholson went up among a group of defenders and caught a leaping 39-yard touchdown pass from Eric Kordenbrock on the final snap of regulation to pull the home team to 31-30. With the house rocking in excitement, freshman place-kicker Dillon Christopher’s drilled the point-after conversion to force overtime.
“That’s a play that we practice every week, so it’s not like it’s total luck,” VMI coach Sparky Woods said. “A great player jumps up to make a great catch, the quarterback scrambles to keep the play alive and makes a big throw.”
Kordenbrock never saw Nicholson snare the ball and come down for the TD. The record-breaking VMI QB was flat on his back after taking a big hit, for which the defender was called for a personal foul.
Woods said he pondered going for a two-point conversion to win the game.
“But they had that penalty and I thought it was a great advantage for us. Plus, our quarterback was hurt on the field, so I didn’t want to change quarterbacks and put the game on the line right then. I think that would have been a greater risk than getting it into overtime, especially with the penalty coming.
“The big question then was whether we took the ball or play defense [in the first OT]. If we had taken the ball first, we would have put the ball on the 12 1⁄ 2-yard line with the penalty. But it was their choice — they won the toss — so they selected to take the ball.”
Robert Morris (2-2) was forced to start the first OT on the VMI 40 after the 15-yard personal foul penalty was assessed. Two plays later, VMI safety Caleb Furlow intercepted Paul Jones’ pass to end the possession.
After picking up 8 yards on two Jabari Turner runs and an incompletion, VMI summoned Christopher for the what would have been a game-winning 34-yard field goal. However, the left-footed freshman from Newport News pulled the kick from the left hash mark and the ball sailed outside to the right.
“You have to let the kids decide the outcome of the game,” Woods said. “You have to give them a chance and put your field-goal team out there and kick it through. He’s a freshman and he’s going to be a good kicker. There was a lot of pressure put on him, and I hate to do that, but if he’s going to be a kicker, he’ll be in that situation more. … He works hard, he’ll be a good kicker one day.”
In the second OT, VMI got the ball first and Turner ran twice for 11 yards and a first down to the visitors’ 14. Two straight incompletions and a Turner 4-yard run moved the ball to the 10. Christopher trotted on and pushed the kick left of the left upright.
The Colonials took it from there. Deontae Howard ran for 8 yards on first down, then raced around the left side, made one Keydet miss and walked into the end zone for the game-winning 17-yard TD.
“The momentum swung after we missed the first field goal,” said Woods, whose club fell to 1-4. “We had the ball, we should have taken the ball in and scored.”
Forget the ending, though. The Keydets wouldn’t have been in overtime if not for RMU scoring on Antwan Eddie’s 88-yard punt return early in the second quarter for a gift touchdown. Eddie didn’t appear to be touched on the return.
“That was a huge play,” Woods said. “We’ve got to find somebody to get [Eddie] on the ground. We didn’t kick well, we didn’t cover kicks well and we gave up a lot of yards.”
The loss took much of the shine off a superb day by Kordenbrock, who was 34 of 51 passing for 359 yards and three touchdowns. The four-year starting senior moved atop the VMI list for career passing yards at 5,738 yards.
Nicholson, who had five receptions for 86 yards, was on the receiving end of 10- and 39-yard scores. Another freshman, Dane Forlines, had five catches for 71 yards, including a 36-yard TD reception that put the Keydets ahead 24-14 early in the third quarter.
“It’s extremely heartbreaking,” Kordenbrock said. “I really don’t care about [personal records], I just want to win football games. This team deserves to win.”
The Colonials, in their final season under retiring 77-year-old coach Joe Walton, had 448 yards. Quarterback Paul Jones, who began his college career at Penn State, was 22 for 43 passing for 321 yards and two TDs. The Colonials’ quick receivers gave VMI’s defense fits.
The Keydets, who split earlier home games with Division II foes Glenville State and North Greenville, are idle next week.
“It’s going to sting for two weeks and it’s pretty unfortunate,” Keydets linebacker Logan Staib said. “But I think a lot of guys will use this as motivation.”
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