ETSU's Keith Coffee turns upfield against VMI's Josh Sarratt after catching a pass.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - How about some Sunday morning football?
 That is exactly what occurred as East Tennessee State dropped a 31-24 overtime thriller to Virginia Military Institute at Greene Stadium in the Southern Conference opener for both teams that wasn't decided until 1:08 a.m.
 Javeon Lara scored on the third play of overtime, catching a pass from Reece Udinski, breaking a Jeremy Lewis tackle and dashing 21 yards to the end zone. The extra point kick by Grant Clemons gave the Keydets the final margin.
 ETSU (1-2, 0-1), which won six games last season by  three points or less, came out on the short end of this one, going 4-and-out from the 6, allowing VMI to run onto the field and celebrate its first win over an FCS opponent since they defeated the Buccaneers in 2016. 
 It was a long night for both sides, and the sold-out crowd, most of whom weren't there at the end. The scheduled 7:35 kick was delayed until 8:43 p.m. due to lightning in the area.
 Another delay occurred with ETSU leading 7-0 in the second quarter with 5:11 on the clock. It wouldn't continue until 10:52, and didn't end until after 1 a.m.
  "I don't think we handled (the delays) as well as we needed to. I think some of our guys did and some of them didn't, but that comes a little bit with maturity. I thought some of them were immature, but they are and hopefully they will grow up," ETSU head coach Randy Sanders said. "That is no excuse. It is our job as coaches to make them grow up, to get them to grow up, but I thought a lot of our team handled it well and several of guys didn't handle it as well."
 VMI, which tied the score at 7-7 at the break, forced overtime when Clemons connected on a 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining to tie it at 24. ETSU had an opportunity to build the lead to 6 in the final minutes, but Tyler Keltner missed a field goal attempt.
 Special teams definitely weren't on this night for the Buccaneers.
 "Obviously our kicking game has got to get a whole lot better. We shanked two punts, we kicked off out of bounds three times, missed a field goal," Sanders said. "We looked like we were running half speed covering a punt, fortunately we get bailed out with an illegal block.  We have got to get better..."
 VMI (2-1, 1-0) got the ball first in overtime, facing a 3rd and 6 when Udinksk- - who was 36-for-64 for 281 yards - found Lara opened on the left sideline, and Lara did the rest, breaking a tackle by Lewis and dashing into the end zone.
 Udinski was picked off five times last year in a loss to ETSU, but played turnover-free ball in this one.
 Trey Mitchell, who was just 17-for-38 for 250 yards for the Buccaneers, was able to complete a 19-yard pass to Anthony Spagnoletti on a 4th-and-9 to give ETSU the ball at the 6.
 That would be as far as they would get. Spagnoletti was the target twice, but couldn't come up with the ball either time. Sanders wasn't sure what happened on the incomplete pass that ended the game.
  "I thought we had one open and we missed him. We had one wide open and hit him and he dropped it. I honestly don't know what happened on the fourth down play," Sanders said. "Obviously the quarterback was expecting something different from the receiver. I don't know why he was expecting what he was expecting until I talk to him.
 "The receiver obviously did what I expected so I don't know if Trey tried to communicate something with him and I missed it."
 ETSU took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a 57-yard pass from Mitchell to Keith Coffee. Two plays after the lightning delay, the Keydets drove the ball downfield, tying the score on a 13-yard diving catch in the end zone by Rohan Martin from Udinski.
 "Obviously the lightning delay was huge. We score, they get it and then we have the lightning delay," Sanders said. "Offensively I thought it took us a long time to get our focus, to get our energy.
 "There wasn't a lot of juice in the group. I thought two or three of them were trying to get some of them going, but there were some of them that kind of played like they were tired."
 VMI took a 14-10 lead going into the fourth quarter following a 3-yard run by Alex Ramsey. Tyler Keltner had a 37-yard field goal for the Bucs.
 The clubs combined for 24 fourth quarter points, trading the lead back and fourth three times before the end of the period.
 Mitchell connected with Spagnoletti on a pretty 20-yard score in the back of the end zone, and then ETSU answered a 1-yard Ramsey run with a 61-yard dash to paydirt by Jacob Saylors for a 24-21 lead with 5:59 to play. 
 Saylors finished with 112 yards on the ground, while Quay Holmes added 88. Spagnoletti paced the Bucs with four receptions for 57 yards.
  "Jacob is a good player. I think we have two good backs," Sanders said. "We made a little adjustment with the run game a little bit and had a few of them pop out of there and obviously had the one long run."
 VMI was able to follow up the late missed field goal by Keltner by driving down the field, keyed by a 29-yard run from Ramsey and a 9-yard pass by Udinski as he was falling to the turf in the grasp of ETSU's Nasir Player.
 Ramsey was a workhorse for the Keydets, compiling 57 yards on the ground and 11 receptions for 56 yards. Three VMI receivers finished with at least eight catches.
 That was followed by the game-tying field goal from Clemons to force an extra period in a game that last more than five hours.
 ETSU was led defensively by Donovan Manuel and Lewis with nine tackles apiece. VMI was led by Josh Surratt with 11 tackles, while Graham product Jarrod Richmond had four tackles, two stops for loss and a sack.
 The Buccaneers will  host their third straight home game next Saturday, entertaining non-league foe Austin Peay. Kickoff is slated for 7:35 p.m.
VMI 0 7 7 10 7 -  31
ETSU 0 7 3 14 0 - 24
ET-Coffee 57 pass from Mitchell (Keltner kick)
VM-Martin 13 pass from Udinski (Clemons kick)
VM-Ramsey 3 run (Clemons kick)
ET-Keltner 37 field goal
ET-Spagnoletti 20 pass from Mitchell (Keltner kick)
VM-Ramsey 1 run (Clemons kick)
ET-Saylors 61 run (Keltner kick)
VM-Clemons 30 field goal
ET-Lara 21 pass from Udinski (Clemons kick)
Team Stats
First downs: VM 26, ET 22. Rush-yards: VM 28-98, ET 29-207. Pass yards: VM 311, ET 253. Comp-Att-Int: VM 39-66-0,  ET 18-39-1. Fumbles-lost: VM 0-0, ET 1-1. Penalty-yards: VM 3-35, ET 9-105. Punts-Avg: VM 7-44.6, ET 7-32.1
Individual Stats
Rushing: VM Ramsey 16-57, Udinski 9-35, Bridy 1-5, Martin 1-2, Thomas 1-(-1), ET Saylors 9-112, Holmes 14-88, McGue 4-16, Team 1-(-2), Mitchell 1-(-7).
Passing: VM Udinski 38-64-2 TD-281-0 int, Thomas 1-1-0-30-0, Team 0-1-0-0-0, ET Mitchell 17-38-2 TD, 250-1 Int, McGue 1-1-0-3-0.
Receiving: Ramsey 11-56, Martin 9-46, Herres 8-79, Lara 5-49, Thomas 4-35, Udinski 1-30, Smith 1-16, ET Spagnoletti 4-57, Wilson 4-47, Coffee 2-72, Huzzie 2-38, Adkins 2-18, Saylors 2-15, Holmes 2-6.
Turnovers: Tucker fr, Trotman int.

 ETSU led 14-10 going into the fourth quarter before the teams combined for 24 points, including a 30-yard field goal by Grant Clemons with :10 on the clock to force overtime.
 Virginia Military Institute took the ball first in overtime, with facing a 3rd-and-6 from the 21 when Udinski - who completed 38-of-64 passes for 281 yards - connected with Lara, who broke a tackle by Jeremy Lewis and ran into the end zone for the score. Clemons added the extra point.
 Trey Mitchell was able to complete a 19-yard pass to Anthony Spagnoletti on a 4th-and-9, putting the ball at the 6. ETSU couldn't convert from there, with Spagnoletti missing a pass in the end zone at one point. Sanders wasn't sure what happened on  the incompletion on fourth down.
 That ended a game that seemingly was never going to end. ETSU took a 7-0 lead with 5:34 left in the first quarter on a 57-yard pass from Mitchell to Keith Coffee. Tyler Keltner added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
 Two plays later, lightning struck again, forcing another delay. VMI was able to resume its drive after the break, tying the score at 7-7 with 1:41 on the clock on a diving catch by Rohan Martin on a 13-yard pass from Udinski.
 Clemons added the extra point. He later missed a 54-yard field goal with no time on the clock at the end of the half.  
 Alex Ramsey, who finished with 57 yards rushing and caught 11 passes for 56 more yards, scored from 3-yards out, and Keltner added a 37-yard field goal, with the Keydets still leading 14-10.
 The scoring picked up in the fourth, with the teams trading scores, including a 20-yard scoring pass from Mitchell to Spagnoletti to put the Bucs ahead 17-14. Ramsey followed with a 1-yard run to put the Keydets back on top.
 ETSU came right back, with Jacob Salyors, who finished with 112 yards on the ground, dashed 61 yards for a touchdown with 5:59 left to put the Bucs up 24-21. Quay Holmes added 88 yards for the Buccaneers.
 After VMI turned the ball over on downs, Buccaneers drove to the 28, with Keltner missing a 40-yard field goal. It wasn't a good night for the special teams, which allowed a punt return for a score that was nullified by penalty.
 What Sanders didn't like was an unsportsmanlike penalty on ETSU after the touchdown, and he got one of his own. VMI took over at the 50, drove down the field and tied the score on the Clemons' 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left on the clock.
 That would lead to the overtime loss, with Sanders not pleased with how long it took the ETSU offense to get on track.
 "I thought honestly we started really flat and I thought we played really flat until somewhere there in the third quarter, especially on offense," Sanders said. "I thought defensively we started very well until we had that first lightning delay, came back out and gave up some big third downs..."
 Mitchell completed 17-of-38 passes for 250 yards and two scores. Spagnoletti led the Bucs with four receptions for 57 yards, but couldn't come up two passes in the overtime period.
 "We thought that was something we had the opportunity to hit going into the game. One of three is good in baseball, you can get rich 1 for 3 in baseball, but one in three in football doesn't do you much good."

An 8-yard punt by ETSU's Garrett Taylor gave the Keydets the ball at the Bucs' 45-yard line. The Keydets wound up settling for a 47-yard field goal attempt by Grant Clemons, but the ball bounced off the right upright of the goal post.
 Mitchell followed with a 14-yard completion to freshman Isaiah Wilson to the ETSU 43 before finding a streaking Coffee near the goal line. He caught the ball at the 15 and got past the defender for the touchdown.
 That was the third longest pass play at ETSU since the program was resurrected in 2015. 
Tyler Keltner added the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
 second half started at 11:19 - 10 minute halftime
Richmond sack - punt return for td nullified by block in back 59 yards 
2 to 15 to 2 pass 34 yards
Ramsey - 2 run pushes way in end TD 11:32 ex good 14-7
Keltner 37 fgoal - 12-51 14-10, 6:14 left in 3rd
ETSU was driving, textbook tackle knocks ball loose from Holmes - recovered by No. 1 at VMI 34
4th quarter
 Mitchell 6-90 2:53 terrific pass in back of end zone to 89 - Anthony Spagnoletti  Extra point good by Keltner 17-14 10:29
VMI 1 run by Ramsey, 11-75
key play, 16 pass from 2 to 23 down to 1 0 personal foul 15 yards on Donovan Manuel picked up and threw 5 down
21-17 6:12
Salyors 61 run middle down left sideline TD Keltner EX
24-21 5:59 to go
Keltner misses 40 yard field goal 2:27 to play
Ramsey 29 run
Udinski going down in hands of Player, completes pass to sliding Leroy Thomas
drive started with 2:27 on clock
30 field goal by Clemons
24-24 with 10 seconds to play
Udinski to Javeon Lara 21 pass on 3rd and 6, broke tackle by Lewis, ran into end zone EX good
ETSU gets back to 6 on a 4th and 9 19 pass from Mitchell to Spag
No more, drops, missed catches, overthrow on 4th down

ETSU forced 5 int 1 FR last season game with vmi
 ETSU, which recognized the 1969 team that defeated Terry Bradshaw and Louisiana Tech in the Grantland Rice Bowl, returns home on Saturday to face Austin Peay.
 Kickoff for the non-conference affair is slated for 7:35 p.m.
bwoodson@bristolnews.com | Twitter: BHCWoodson | (276) 645-2543

8:02 - 70 minute clock
8:43    - opening kick
ETSU-VMI delayed by lightning
 Lightning delayed the start of the Southern Conference opener for East Tennessee State on Saturday night, forcing the 7:35 p.m. game with Virginia Military Institute to finally begin at 8:43 p.m.
 Another lightning delay followed with 5:11 remaining in the second quarter, a break that began at 9:48 p.m. and lasted past 11 p.m.
 After a scoreless first quarter, ETSU took a 7-0 lead on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Trey Mitchell to Keith Coffee. Tyler Keltner added the extra point with 5:34 remaining in the second quarter.
 VMI had one scoring opportunity, but Grant Clemons hit the right upright of the crossbar on a 47-yard field goal attempt just two plays before the ETSU touchdown.
 Two plays after Mitchell connected with Coffee, another lightning delay followed.
 The game ended well past deadline.
 Visit www.bristolnews.com/sports or see Monday's edition of the Bristol Herald Courier for details.  

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