New Citadel president Gen. Glenn Walters accepted the Silver Shako from his VMI counterpart for the first time on Saturday in Lexington, Va.
But the coveted award's final destination was in doubt for much of the afternoon. The Citadel survived a failed 2-point conversion by VMI with 34 seconds left and held on for a 34-32 victory at a packed Foster Stadium to win the Military Classic of the South.
The Bulldogs (2-4, 2-3 Southern Conference) celebrated their 12th straight win in the series with as much relief as joy. VMI quarterback Reece Udinski hit 48 of 63 passes for 437 yards — single-game records against The Citadel — and five touchdowns. His 27-yard TD to Jakob Herres brought the Keydets within two points with 34 seconds left.
But on the 2-point try for the tie, Udkinski overthrew an open receiver in end zone and VMI lost for the 24th straight game to fall to 0-7 overall and 0-6 in the SoCon.
Citadel quarterback Jordan Black ran 23 times for 155 yards and two scores, including a 71-yard jaunt for a 28-20 lead in the third quarter. Grant Drakeford ran for a 25-yard TD, and Jacob Godek kicked field goals of 37 and 27 yards, the first for a 31-20 lead with 9:42 left.
"It was a heck of a game," said Citadel coach Brent Thompson. "I've got to hand it to VMI, we're up by 11 late and they battled back and never gave up. Coach (Scott) Wachenheim is doing a heck of a job over there."
What went right
The Citadel had a good day on special teams, tipping the game in the Bulldogs' favor. Bandit Sean-Thomas Faulkner blocked two kicks — a punt to set up The Citadel's second TD and an extra point to keep the Bulldogs ahead 21-20 in the third quarter.
Godeck, who struggled last season, has bounced back nicely and now has made 6 of 7 field goals this season. Freshman Matt Campbell averaged 44.2 yards on four punts, with one over 50 yards and three inside the VMI 20-yard line.
"Special teams was great," Thompson said. "The only thing we missed on special teams was that pop-over kick we tried early. We were taking chances, and when we got the punt block, that seemed to set them off."
VMI's special teams were not as good. The Keydets failed on two 2-point tries and botched a field goal attempt late in the first half.
What went wrong
Citadel coaches knew Udinski, a 6-4 sophomore, would provide a tough test for the secondary, and he did. Kris Thornton caught 11 passes for 146 yards and two scores, and Herres caught six balls for 117 yards. He came wide open on the 27-yard TD that almost allowed VMI to tie the score with 34 seconds left.
The Citadel did sack Udinski twice, and safety Aron Spann III and linebacker Willie Eubanks intercepted tipped passes.
More disappointing to Thompson was the offense's failure to ice the game late when it could have. Up 31-20 with 8:33 left, the Bulldogs got the ball at midfield, but Black lost a fumble after an 11-yard run, setting up Udinski's 65-yard TD to Thornton.
Up 31-26 with 8:12 left, the Bulldogs could manage only one first down. And after Eubanks' pick gave The Citadel the ball at the VMI 17, the Bulldogs had to settle for Godek's 28-yard field goal and a 34-26 lead that still gave the Keydets a chance.
VMI had climbed to within 31-26 (and missed on a 2-point try) with 8:12 left. After a Citadel punt, Faulkner knocked the ball away from a VMI receiver, Eubanks picking the ball out of the air.
That set up Godek's 28-yard field goal for a 34-26 lead, which proved just enough.
"We've won the Silver Shako 12 times in a row, and the pressure builds the more you win," Thompson said. "We want to have the Shako at home in Charleston, and a lot of our seniors take pride in that. They don't want to be the group that turns the Shako over."
The Citadel returns home next week to face Furman, which lost 38-25 to Samford to fall to 2-4 overall and 2-2 in the league.
• Former Citadel coach Mike Houston, now at James Madison, was on hand for the game ... Freshman fullback Emeka Nwanze made his debut, with two carries for eight yards. He can play in four games without losing his redshirt season ... Freshman Mason Kinsey had two sacks, Joseph Randolp had 1.5 and Jalon Wiliams got half a sack ... Eubanks led the way with 12 tackles, and Noah Dawkins had two tackles for loss.