Lexington, Va. – Tailback Donnavan Spencer accounted for 247 yards of offense and three touchdowns while the defense and special teams combined for five takeaways including four fumbles and QB Reece Udinski’s first interception of the season as Western Carolina halted a myriad of winless droughts with an impressive, 43-35, victory over VMI in Southern Conference action Saturday afternoon at Foster Stadium.
Spencer scored on a 78-yard pass reception on WCU’s first offensive play and added rushing tallies of both one and 42 yards in the second half to help a strong offensive effort for the Catamounts who amassed a season-high 539 yards of total offense. Redshirt senior QB Tyrie Adams threw for 322 yards and a trio of scores including a 42-yard strike on the game’s final play to provide the final tally.
Left-footed kicker Julian Pletz split the uprights three times in the winning effort – twice connecting from 40-plus yards away including a career-long 44-yarder in the second quarter as a part of WCU’s 17th-straight victory in the head-to-head series with VMI.
Spencer’s 42-yard touchdown run which came on a fourth down play midway through the fourth quarter stretched the Catamount advantage to 15 points, 37-22. However, the quick-strike offense of the Keydets rallied right back, pulling to within one score, 37-29, as Udinski orchestrated a six-play scoring drive in less than 90 seconds.
After WCU was forced to punt for just the second time in the game, VMI again quickly found the end zone in a two-play drive as Udinski connected with Leroy Thomas for a 62-yard pitch-and-catch to make it a two-point game. On the ensuing two-point try, Udinski’s pass into the right flat was complete but the runner was knocked back at the line of scrimmage by Ronald Kent and a host of Catamounts to keep the narrow, 37-35, edge.
Assuming possession again with 3:01 remaining on the stadium clock, the Catamount offense managed a first down on an Adams completion to Daquan Patten. Then, on a fourth-down play inside the final seconds, Adams faked a hand-off up the middle and delivered a strike to Patten in single-coverage down the right sideline for a 42-yard TD as time expired, sealing the victory for the Catamounts.
WCU’s defense created five total turnovers in the win including four fumbles – one coming on special teams as a punt took an errant bounce off a Keydet player and was recovered by the Catamounts. In addition to standing tall on the would-be game-tying two-point conversion attempt, WCU’s defensive unit also came-up with the first interception on QB Udinski as John Brannon thwarted a VMI scoring drive by jumping an out route for his team-leading third interception of the season.
Linebacker Michael Murphy led the team with 11 tackles including one stop for loss, while Trevor Childers and Ty Harris were both credited with 10 stops apiece. For a second-straight week, Jayden Pauling tallied a quarterback sack and fumble, creating WCU’s first turnover while also recovering a fumble in addition to posting eight tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss. Freshman Chester Geffrard collected WCU’s other sack. Kent and K.J. Milner also recovered fumbles in the win for WCU.
Spencer (2-for-110 yds) and Patten (5-for-103) both finished with over 100 receiving yards in the road victory, halting a nine-game road winless drought while also representing WCU’s first win over a NCAA Division I opponent since upending the Keydets in Cullowhee last season. The Catamounts also ended an 11-game drought against league foes with the win.
Udinski finished the game 23-of-31 for 317 yards with a pair of touchdowns while running back Alex Ramsey rumbled for 143 yards and three first half scores to lead the Keydets. Receiver Jakob Herres caught seven passes for 105 yards and a score in the loss for VMI.
Western Carolina (2-7, 1-5 SoCon) returns home for the first of back-to-back home games next Saturday, hosting regional conference rival ETSU (2-7, 0-6 SoCon) at E.J. Whitmire Stadium in the backend of a Catamount doubleheader. WCU men’s basketball hosts NCAA tournament team, Gardner-Webb, at Noon in the Ramsey Center ahead of the “Blue Ridge Border Battle” with ETSU at 3:30 pm in Cullowhee. A ticket to the football game serves as admission to the hoops game at Noon in the two games for the price of one promotion.
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