LEXINGTON, Va. - East Tennessee State quarterback Matt Wilhjelm (Johnson City, Tenn.) threw for 174 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 74 yards in his final game to lead the Bucs to a 34-23 win over VMI Thursday afternoon in the season finale for both teams.
VMI trailed 28-10 at the half, but clawed back into contest in the second half.
Keydet quarterback Joey Gibson fired a seven-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Snelling to bring VMI within 28-16 with 13:47 left in the fourth quarter, but a two-point conversion run by Kevin Solomon failed.
Con Chellis (Summerville, S.C.) knocked through a 43-yard field goal to stretch the Buccanneer lead to 31-16 with 9:27 left in the game, but VMI closed within a score when Gibson connected with VMI wideout John Puvogel on a 13-yard slant pattern to the endzone on a fourth and 10 situation. Matt Sharpe's extra-point cut the deficit to 31-23.
A bad snap over the head of VMI punter Brent Barth, the second of the day, set up ETSU's final score, a 23-yard field goal by Chellis with 1:44 left in the game - snuffing out any VMI hopes of a game-tying possession in the last seconds.
Gibson completed 26 of a school record 57 attempts for 310 yards and three touchdowns. It was Gibson's second straight 300-yard game. The 26 completions also tied him for the school single game high set by Dave Brown against Marshall in 1988.
ETSU's Scott Carter (Knoxville, Tenn.) rushed for 35 yards and two touchdowns, and Buc wideout Cecil Moore (Morristown, Tenn.) caught five passes for 129 yards.
The Bucs opened the scoring in the game on a nine-play, 65-yard drive capped by Scott Carter's 10-yard run with 7:05 left in the first quarter, but VMI answered when Solomon caught a swing pass from Gibson in the right flat and raced down the boundary for a 30-yard touchdown play. Carter's second TD, a 16-yard burst up the middle, put the Bucs back on top, 14-7, with 2:41 to play in the opneing period.
VMI closed within 14-10 early in the second when Matt Sharpe hit a 31-yard field goal that capped a 60-yard, 12-yard drive. It was Sharpe's fourth successful attempt in five tries this season.
The Bucs scored touchdowns on their next two drives to build a 28-10 lead at halftime. Fullback Nick Spearman (Summerville, S.C.) scored on a four-yard run to cap a 10-play, 72-drive to extend the lead to 21-10 with 8:58 left before intermission. Wilhjelm rushed three times for 29 yards and completed two of three passes for 21 yards on the drive. Wilhjelm teamed up with Tim Turner for a 28-yard TD pass on ETSU's next possession, which was set up by another bad snap on a VMI punt.
VMI slotback T.J. Snelling led VMI receivers with six catches for 41 yards. VMI outside linebacker Derik Screen led VMI defenders with 14 tackles including six for loss for -35 yards. He also had two sacks and forced a fumble.
The Keydets closed out the season 1-10, 1-7 while ETSU finished at 6-5, 4-4.