The words of the Old Yell echoed on the sidelines of Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“Rah Virginia Mil, Rah Rah Rah,” roared 500 VMI cadets as their long-suffering football team celebrated in front of them. “Rah Rah VMI, Whole Damn Team!”
VMI quarterback Reece Udinski held the Silver Shako trophy in one arm and stood at attention as the American flag was lowered. Moments later, his teammates danced in the visitors' locker room, yelling “Shako! Shako! Shako!”
It's been a long time – 17 years to be exact – since the coveted Silver Shako has resided on the VMI campus in Lexington, Va. But that's exactly where the trophy is headed after the Keydets snapped a 12-game losing streak against The Citadel with a 34-21 victory before a Parents Day sellout crowd of 12,126 at Johnson Hagood.
“It's a surreal feeling right now,” said Udkinski, who was masterful in throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns in the 75th edition of the Military Classic of the South. “I just want to embrace it all, and I can't even describe it in words. The feeling is something I'll never forget in my whole life.”
The feeling of losing the Shako for the first time since 2002 – and of losing to VMI in Charleston for the first time since 1995 – is not one the Bulldogs will easily shake.
The team that made national news with an overtime upset of Georgia Tech just a couple of weeks ago is now 2-4 overall, 0-2 in the Southern Conference and looking for answers.
“We've got to challenge ourselves, and really you've got to challenge yourselves as a man to get back up and fight,” said Citadel coach Brent Thompson, the first Bulldogs coach to lose to VMI (3-3, 2-1) since Ellis Johnson in 2002.
“I don't know what happened. I don't know exactly what happened today, but I know we didn't come out hungry, and that's my fault. We didn't come out ready to go, and that's my fault.”
At least two things did happen:
• The Bulldogs had no answer for Udinski, a 6-4 junior from North Wales, Pa., who was nearly flawless. He hit 25 of 35 passes, including TD passes of 9 and 61 yards to 6-4 matchup nightmare Jakob Herres, without an interception. In fact, Udinski has thrown a SoCon-record 252 straight passes without an interception.
“He's a tough competitor, and I'm really impressed with the way he competed today,” said VMI coach Scott Wachenheim, now 9-41 in his fifth season. “I love that kid.”
• And VMI, playing a five-man front, completely stonewalled The Citadel's triple-option rushing attack, holding The Citadel to 78 rushing yards. That's the Bulldogs' fewest since they managed just 18 against Elon in 2009.
That forced QB Brandon Rainey to throw 34 passes, the most for The Citadel since that same 2009 season. And though Rainey hit 19 throws for 233 yards - 10 of them to Raleigh Webb for 110 yards - the Bulldogs were never going to win a passing shootout with VMI.
“We put in a totally different defense for these guys,” said Wachenheim. “I'm an old wishbone guy, I played the wishbone at Air Force as an offensive tackle. You never want to get beat by the fullback or the quarterback, you want them to have to execute the option to the fullest extent, to the pitch.
“And if they are going to beat you throwing the ball, more power to them.”
Freshman fullback Logan Billings started for the injured Clay Harris for The Citadel and gained a team-best 51 yards on 13 carries. But his early fumble set up a VMI touchdown, and the Keydets scored 24 straight points for a 24-7 lead in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs rallied to cut that lead to 27-21 with 3:22 left as Rainey ran for two of his three touchdowns.
But needing one more stop, The Citadel's secondary blew a coverage and left Herres alone across the middle. He turned that into a clinching 61-yard TD and a 34-21 lead with 2:18 left, giving him eight catches for 175 yards and two scores.
As Citadel president Gen. Glenn Walters presented the Silver Shako to his VMI counterpart, Gen. Binford Peay, Citadel players looked on solemnly. After seeing the shiny trophy daily in the football offices at Seignious Hall, the Bulldogs won't see it again for at least another year.
“It's a tough pill to swallow,” said Citadel linebacker Willie Eubanks III, his eyes rimmed in red. “Nobody wants to be the team that loses to VMI. But we'll come back to practice tomorrow and get ready for next week.”
Meanwhile, VMI must find a place to keep the Silver Shako.
“It's going to be a crazy week,” Udinski said. “I know people are going to come from all over the place to see that thing.”
With the Silver Shako in Charleston for the last 17 years, VMI's Wachenheim put up a poster in the locker room this fall with a picture of the SoCon championship trophy and the Shako. The poster asked two questions: “How bad do you want it? And what price are you willing to pay?”
VMI answered the Shako questions Saturday. Now, The Citadel has some of its own to answer.
• Citadel linebacker Eubanks was all over the field, with 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. The Citadel had three sacks - 1.5 for tackle Dalton Owens, one for linebacker Marquise Blount and a half-sack for end Aaron Brawley.
• With his 10 catches for 110 yards, Webb is the first Citadel receiver with back-to-back 100-yard games since Andre Roberts in 2008 ... Punter Matt Campbell missed his second straight game with injury, and backup Gage Russell averaged 44.8 yards on six kicks ... Safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner sat out the first half after last week's targeting penalty, finishing with three tackles.