LEXINGTON, Va. - Freddie Martino set a Foster Stadium record with 12 receptions, helping lead the North Greenville Crusaders to a 37-24 win over the VMI Keydets in non-conference football action Saturday in Lexington, Va. Martino also totaled 182 yards receiving, the most by a Keydet opponent in any league since the team joined the Big South for the 2003 season, and with his 12 catches, broke a 16-year old record for most receptions at VMI's home facility.
The Crusaders (2-0), coached by former VMI defensive coordinator Jeff Farrington, took the lead less than four minutes into the game, when kicker Justin Gravely connected on a 22-yard field goal to give NGU a 3-0 edge. The visitors would lead the rest of the way, helped by a 215-22 edge in rushing yards, fueled by four North Greenville sacks, and Martino's career day. VMI battled back to within 13 late in the third quarter and had NGU pinned deep in its own territory, but a 10-yard completion to Martino had a 15-yard face mask penalty added on, leading to a 25-yard gain that set up the visitors' final scoring drive.
For the Keydets, Eric Kordenbrock had a career-high 369 yards passing, but was held in check percentage-wise, going just 27 of 47 on the afternoon. Sam Patterson and Derrick Ziglar had six catches apiece, and defensive back Alex James had his third consecutive double-digit tackle game. James has now opened his VMI career with three straight games of at least 10 tackles.
With NGU leading 3-0 early on the crisp, clear fall day, the teams exchanged punts to give the Keydets the ball at their own 21 with seven minutes showing on the clock. On first down, Kordenbrock fumbled the snap and NGU linebacker Shaquan Burney fell on it for a turnover. The Crusaders, however, immediately gave the ball back thanks to Caleb Lindsey, who picked off Nelson Hughes' first down pass for a turnover of his own. The two turnovers took just six seconds between them, and would prove to be the only turnovers of the afternoon.
The Keydets could not take advantage of the interception, and NGU took over near midfield. Just five plays later, Hughes found Devontez Rouse for a 23-yard touchdown and, after the extra point, a 10-0 lead for the Crusaders. That would be the score after one quarter of play, and NGU added on early in the second. After taking over just nine seconds into the period, the visitors went just 44 yards in 12 plays. The drive saw 7 of 11 plays be runs, and Gravely converted a 27-yard field goal to push the lead to 13.
VMI came right back, as Kordenbrock completed 3 of 4 passes on a lightening quick drive that culminated with a 47-yard strike to Doug Burton, Burton's first career touchdown catch that cut the NGU lead to 13-7. Much as they would all day, the visitors came right back with a clock-eating drive. This one took 5:11, but was 13 plays covering 39 yards that Gravely capped with his third field goal, giving NGU a 16-7 lead with 3:46 left in the half.
In large part due to a penalty, the Keydets had to punt the ball away on their next drive and the Crusaders responded, going 59 yards in just 58 seconds in spite of a five-yard penalty. Martino had 61 yards receiving on the drive, including the 25-yard touchdown grab that made it a 23-7 contest. VMI responded, however, and marched 56 yards to close out the half with Dillon Christopher's first career field goal, a 37-yard kick that made the halftime deficit 23-10.
At the half, the story of the game had been NGU's time of possession, as the visitors held an 18:25-11:35 edge in that statistic. That led to 22 more offensive plays and a 168-yard advantage in total yards.
Trailing 23-10, the Keydets took the opening kickoff of the second half, but two sacks on their opening drive forced them to punt from their endzone. Following a 21-yard punt return by Nigel Gay, NGU took over at the Keydet 22 and needed only four plays from there for Trey Walker to punch in a two-yard touchdown run that made it a 20-point lead, 30-10.
Neither team could find the scoreboard again until the Keydets took over with 8:16 left in the third quarter. Patterson had a 20-yard reception on third and 2, setting up a Derrick Ziglar 22-yard touchdown scamper that cut NGU's lead to 30-17.
The first play of NGU's next drive was one of the game's biggest, as Martino caught a 10-yard reception that turned into 25 yards with the resultant face mask penalty. That pushed the Crusaders into a nine-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a Hughes 14-yard quarterback run to the endzone, making it a 37-17 game headed to the fourth quarter.
Patterson caught a six-yard touchdown on the final Keydet drive, doing so with 24 seconds remaining to account for the final margin.
For NGU, Hughes finished 23 of 35 with one interception and two touchdowns, and Walker led the running back by committee with 63 yards and a score. Ziglar picked up 61 yards on the ground for the Keydets.
VMI football will return to action next Saturday, taking on the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium. Opening kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Sparky Woods
"First of all, my congratulations to North Greenville, they really came in as a fast ball team, didn't really surprise us, they looked good on film, looked fast. They executed well. Their quarterback (Nelson Hughes) made good decisions and they played hard at the line of scrimmage and the backs ran the ball hard. They are good tacklers on defense."
"I thought we got ourselves in trouble by getting behind. It was a 60-minute, us-versus-them mentality."
"We needed to start better in the second half. We came out, gave up a sack on the first play after giving up a sack on the first play of the game as well. That hurt us, put us behind on the sticks and they were able to move the ball and score."
"We certainly respect them, respected them coming into the game. I know we have to tackle better, we have to block better and we have to execute better in general. The kicking game was poor at the beginning of the game, but I thought it got better as the game went on. I thought we continued to play hard. But we failed to execute the way we needed to and got behind and they were able to capitalize."