LEXINGTON, VA. No. 24 Coastal Carolina struggled in the first half at VMI and had to score in the closing seconds to escape with a 31-27 road victory, Oct. 14, in the Big South Conference opener for both teams. With the win, the Chanticleers pick up their fourth consecutive win and move to 5-2 and 1-0 in league play, while VMI falls to 1-6 and 0-1.
The Keydets got on the scoreboard first after a roughing the punter penalty against Coastal prolonged the drive after a three-and-out series. VMI then took it 59 yards in 12 plays over 4:58, with Barrett Way's 39-yard field goal giving VMI an early 3-0 lead.
The Chanticleers immediately answered with a six-play, 43-yard drive of their own. The drive stalled out at VMI's 20-yard line and kicker Josh Hoke (Statesville, N.C./West Iredell) split the uprights from 37 yards out to knot the game at three with 7:41 to go in the first quarter.
The Keydets got on the scoreboard again, this time with seven points on a seven-play, 80 yard drive over 2:08. The final blow was a shovel pass from quarterback Kyle Hughes to running back Sean Mizzer. Way's extra point made it 10-3 VMI early in the second quarter.
VMI continued their confident play in the first half, getting the ball at CCU's 45 after a wind-hindered punt and moved it again down the field. However, the Chants stopped the drive at their own 15, forcing a 32-yard field goal by Way and the Keydets had a 13-3 lead with 5:53 to go in the first half.
Coastal had one last opportunity in the first half, but a tipped ball in the end zone resulted in an interception to thwart CCU's drive and the Chanticleers went into the halftime lockerroom trailing 13-3.
The Chants came out and got the opening kickoff and immediately got back in the game. After a five-yard run by Aundres Perkins (Effingham, S.C./West Florence), quarterback Tyler Thigpen (Winnsboro, S.C./Fairfield Central) scrambled and connected with wide receiver Perry Parks (Rock Hill, S.C./Sumter) for a 41-yard completion to VMI's 30. Fullback Mike Tolbert (Douglasville, Ga./Douglss County) then broke no fewer than four tackles en route to a 30-yard touchdown run to end the 76-yard drive in 1:29. Hoke's extra point cut the lead to 13-10 with 13:29 to go in the third.
Coastal got the ball in excellent position for its next drive, thanks to Dewitt Myers' (Summerville, S.C./Summerville) interception and return to the VMI 44. On the sixth play of the drive, Thigpen scampered 32-yards down the left side line on 3rd-and-14 to give the Chants their first lead of the game at 17-13 midway through the third period.
VMI responded on its next drive, going nine plays and 65 yards over 4:35. Running back Tim Maypray took the option pitch and went in from 37 yards out, with the extra point making it 20-17 VMI with 3:29 to play in the third quarter.
The Chants had an immediate response on their next play. Tolbert ran through the middle of the line untouched and went 80 yards on the first play of the drive to put CCU back in the lead. The run tied the longest in Big South history and Hoke's PAT made it 24-20 Coastal just 34 seconds later.
VMI made a late charge after a CCU punt gave the Keydets the ball on Coastal's 39-yard line. It took the Keydets seven plays, including one key third-down conversion, to find the end zone on Mizzer's three-yard dive. Way hit the extra point and the Keydets led 27-24 with just 54 seconds to play.
The "Cardiac Chants" showed their character in the closing seconds, going the entire 67 yards in six plays and just 36 seconds. Several key plays occurred during the drive, but it was capped off by Thigpen's seven-yard pass to wide receiver Jerome Simpson (Reidsville, N.C./Reidsville) for the game winning score.
CCU amassed a season-best 555 yards of total offense, including a season-high 330 yards of rushing. VMI moved the ball as well, going 388 yards of total offense. Second half fumbles almost proved costly for the Chanticleers, as twice they had plays that moved the ball into VMI territory only to have the fumbles end the drive.
Tolbert rushed for a career-best and team season-high 155 yards on just eight carries and two touchdowns, while Perkins and Thigpen rushed for 90 and 77 yards, respectively. Thigpen was 19-for-28 for 225 yards, one touchdown and one interception to go with his rushing score. Linebacker Jamar Leath (Elon, N.C./Western Alamance) became the Big South's all-time leading tackler, passing Justin Huggard and Todd Baldwin, both of VMI, with 308. Leath finished the game with 13 tackles for the game and 320 for his career so far.
VMI was led by Maypray with eight carries for 89 yards and one score, while Mizzer had 26 carries for 71 yards and one score. Hughes was 9-for-14 for 110 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the air, while he rushed for 67 yards on 13 carries.
Coastal takes the next week off before returning home to host Big South Conference rival Liberty, Oct. 28. Kickoff at Brooks Stadium is set for 12:30 p.m.