Lexington, Va. - Detrez Newsome accounted for 230 yards of total offense and two touchdowns including a game-winning fourth quarter plunge as Western Carolina survived its first trip to Foster Stadium since 2002, downing the VMI Keydets, 24-20, on Saturday afternoon in Southern Conference action.
Newsome capped a four-play, 70-yard drive with a powerful two-yard run to push the Catamounts ahead for what proved to be for good with just over two minutes remaining in Saturday's fourth quarter.
But behind the arm of quarterback Al Cobb, the Keydet offense moved back down the field and into the red zone.
However, a second down completion from Cobb to Dane Forelines with the clock moving inside the closing seconds forced VMI to quickly take one final snap. Cobb was forced from the pocket, rolled to his right before tucking to run where he was tackled inbounds shy of the goal line as time expired.
Newsome rushed for 140 yards and a two-yard TD, adding 90 receiving yards including a 75-yard swing pass for a score to pace the Catamounts. The Raeford, N.C., needed just 32 yards to eclipse 1,000 for the season, reaching the milestone midway through the second quarter. Newsome finished with 1,109 rushing yards in the regular season, the fourth-best single-season in program history.
Senior quarterback Troy Mitchell completed 24-of-33 passes for 300 yards and two scores including the 75-yard hook-up with Newsome and a 15-yard strike to tight end Michael Helms, who finished with a career-high six catches. Redshirt senior WR Karnorris Benson also hauled in six passes for 141 yards, his second, 100-yard receiving performance of the season and the eighth of his career.
Cobb finished 21-of-32 for 231 yards through the air. But the SoCon's leader in TD passes did not find the end zone through the air despite nine catches and 140 yards to Dane Forlines. League-leader Aaron Sanders was limited to five receptions and 35 yards.
VMI (2-9, 1-6 SoCon) instead turned to its ground attack as senior Derrick Ziglar rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 21 of the Keydets' season-high 49 rushing attempts.
Defensively for WCU, Daniel Riddle and Fred Payne both finished with 15 tackles, a career-high for Payne. A.J. Newman Jr., tallied a career-best 11 tackles in the winning effort. Defensive ends John McBeth and Caleb Hawkins recorded seven and six stops, respectively, with Hawkins tallying a pair of sacks.
Western Carolina overcame two lost fumbles -- one in end zone in the first quarter on the Catamounts' opening drive that thwarted a would-be scoring drive -- and an interception that gave the Keydets the football in plus yardage.
VMI jumped out to a 10-0 advantage with Ziglar's first touchdown on the opening 13-play drive before converting WCU's first turnover into a Dillon Christopher 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter. The Catamounts managed to get on the scoreboard just before intermission as Helms hauled in his first receiving score of the season on a 10-yard strike from Mitchell to make it 10-7.
However, after a failed squib kick gave VMI great field position, the Keydets cashed in on a career-long 55-yard field goal from Christopher as time expired in the first half to make it 13-7 at the break. The 55-yard boot was the second-longest field goal in VMI history, and the second-longest in facility history.
That margin stood until Newsome broke free on a 75-yard swing pass out of the backfield, outrunning the Keydet defenders into the end zone for WCU's first lead, 14-13. Logan Howard would split the uprights from 25 yards away to cap a 12-play, 72-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter to give the Catamounts their largest lead, 17-13.
Looking to run out the clock in the final four minutes, WCU lost its second fumble of the day as Newsome was stripped in a pile as forward momentum was stalled. VMI recovered and one-play later, Ziglar burst through the line on a 17-yard touchdown romp to push the home team back in front.
Mitchell and Newsome responded by driving the Catamount offense down the field in just four plays, covering 70 yards with Newsome providing the game-winning score, setting up the last second defensive heroics.
Western Carolina now awaits any post-season future with the 2015 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Selection Show which will air at 11 am Sunday morning on ESPNU. WCU finished just behind a two-way tie for first in the traditionally strong Southern Conference with two losses in conference coming against virtual locks into the post-season field -- league co-champions, Chattanooga and The Citadel. The other two losses -- each coming on the road -- were to NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) foes out of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Tennessee and Texas A&M.
WCU has not been to the NCAA post-season since 1983 when it advanced to the national championship game, the first SoCon school to make it into the title game.