LEXINGTON, Va. – Bucknell forced four second-half turnovers that led to 21 points and defeated VMI 35-23 Saturday afternoon at Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium. The Bison won for the fifth time in their last six games and finished the season with a 6-5 mark, their second above-.500 mark in the last three years.
Quarterback Brandon Wesley completed 15 of 24 passes for 204 yards, CJ Williams rushed 16 times for 72 yards and Evan Byers posted a career-high 19 tackles to lead the Bison, who outgained VMI (2-10) 377-338.
Bucknell trailed 10-7 at halftime and proceeded to score 14 points in both the third and fourth quarters. The Keydets, who scored 10 first-half points off two Bison turnovers, went up 17-7 midway through the third quarter. The momentum then switched to Bucknell as Wesley completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Williams on the third play of the ensuing drive. The entire Bison offense shifted to the right side of the field in a misdirection play and Wesley lobbed a pass back to a wide-open Williams, who trotted into the end zone untouched.
VMI then turned the ball over on three straight possessions, leading to 14 Bucknell points.
On the very first play of VMI’s next drive, Dylan McDonnell forced a fumble by VMI quarterback A.J. Augustine and Matt Johnson recovered it. After running a 17-yard play for offensive lineman Julie’n Davenport to get the ball to the 3-yard line, Williams plowed his way into the end zone to put Bucknell on top for good at 21-17. The Bison scores were just 43 seconds apart and put Williams into a tie for 11th place on the program’s single-season scoring list with 66 points.
A VMI turnover on the first play of the next drive gave Bucknell the ball back once again, but the Bison were unable to capitalize and held onto the 21-17 advantage entering the final quarter.
The third interception of the season by Tajh Turner late in the third quarter gave Bucknell the ball back once again and completed a stretch where VMI had just six plays over the course of three drives that each resulted in a turnover.
Bucknell’s next scoring drive followed and was an 8-play, 34-yard drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters. Wesley scampered in from five-yards out to put the Bison up 28-17. It was the second rushing touchdown of the contest for Wesley, who finished his career with 15 rushing scores.
VMI cut the Bucknell lead to 28-23 midway through the final quarter when Sam Patterson came back to meet a slightly short 35-yard pass by Augustine and catch it and then take a step into the end zone. Augustine’s two-point conversion try to Patterson was overthrown and the Bison kept a five-point advantage.
Bucknell took control of the ball with 7:28 to play and the VMI defense got the Bison into a 3rd-and-20 situation when Matt DelMauro rushed for 30 yards to pick up a first down and force the Keydets to start using timeouts to stop the clock. The drive ended in a punt, but ate up nearly five minutes off the clock.
A sack and forced fumble by Tracey Smith that was picked up by Johnson and returned 30 yards for a touchdown all but clinched the victory for the Bison.
Bucknell had a tremendous field position advantage, especially in the second half. The average drive start for the Bison in the second half was the VMI 48-yard line, while the Keydets averaged starting at their own 24.
Bucknell got on the board first when Wesley ran in from 27 yards out to complete a 6-play, 73-yard drive. The Keydets then scored 17 straight points before the turnovers started.
In addition to his career-high 19 tackles, Byers finished with one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Demetrius Baldwin-Youngblood added two sacks to tie Johnson for the team lead in sacks on the season with eight.
Augustine finished 19-for-30 for 244 yards and one touchdown for VMI, which lost its last two games of the season. Deon Watts was the team’s leading rusher with 45 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries. The Keydets managed just 94 yards against Bucknell, which held seven of its 11 opponents this year under 100 rushing yards.
In addition to finishing over .500 overall on the season, the Bison were 3-2 in Patriot League play in 2013. They finished in a tie for second in the Patriot League standings with Lehigh and Colgate, two teams they beat.