WCU Football Regular-Season Finale Chocked-Full as WCU Visits VMI
Storylines abound as Western Carolina football travels to Lexington, Va., for Saturday’s regular-season finale. The Catamounts look to keep their NCAA FCS postseason hopes alive as they visit the VMI Keydets in Southern Conference play and the last regular-season game for both squads. Kickoff from the on-post Alumni Field at Foster Stadium is scheduled for Noon.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live audio from the Catamount Sports Network beginning with the Pepsi Tailgate Show at 11 a.m. Fans across Western North Carolina can hear the broadcast locally on five CSN affiliate frequencies: in Sylva, 105.7 FM and 540 AM WRGC "The River"; 104.9 FM and 1050 AM WFSC in Franklin; Rewind 100.3 FM "Carolina's Greatest Hits" in Asheville; and free through live streaming audio online at CatamountSports.com.
Fans can also follow the game with live stats accessible online at CatamountSports.com and with timely in-game updates on Twitter using @Catamounts and @CatamountsFB.
Several things are on the line as the Catamounts and Keydets meet for the 30th time on the football gridiron. WCU (7-3, 5-2 SoCon) is eyeing an eighth seasonal victory, the most for the program since 1984, while also trying to win its sixth conference game to mark the most-ever by a Catamount squad in its 47-year membership in the Southern Conference.
WCU also looks to extend five combined winning streaks including a nine-game series road win streak over VMI; a four-game seasonal road winning streak that is a part of WCU winning five-consecutive road games against NCAA FCS opponents; and a pair of two-game winning streaks including two-straight on the season and WCU seeks a third-straight series win over VMI.
And oh yeah, the Catamounts look to keep their NCAA postseason hopes alive for an at-large bid into the NCAA postseason for the first time in 40 years.
Among the national rankings for a ninth-consecutive week – eighth straight in both polls – No. 18/14 Western Carolina enters the weekend continuing to lead the NCAA FCS in total offense (510.5 yards per game) including the second-best passing attack (325.8 yards per game) and is ranked third in scoring at 38.9 points per game. Second-year quarterback Cole Gonzales ranks fifth in the NCAA in passing at 278.1 yards per game and has tossed an NCAA-leading – and WCU school-record – 28 touchdown passes. Classmate wideout Censere Lee ranks tied for seventh with eight TD catches while ranking 24th overall in receiving yards.
VMI enters the final weekend allowing just 25 points and an average of 368.7 yards of total offense per game. Included in the total offensive numbers are marks of 190.5 rushing yards and a SoCon-best 178.2 yards through the air. Conversely, the Keydet offense has averaged a SoCon-low 112.1 rushing yards per game while ranking sixth in the passing game at 181.5 yards per contest.
Adding to the magnitude of a mid-November game in Lexington, Va., several of WCU’s school records will also likely fall on Saturday at VMI. The Catamounts enter their 11th game of the season with 389 points scored, already matching the 2017 WCU squad for total points in a season. WCU’s offense looks to usurp a year-old benchmark for total yards, entering Saturday with 5,105 yards in trying to eclipse the 5,339 yards set last fall, while also trying to surpass the 3,522-yard passing mark of 2021 already with 3,258 yards through the air.
And the 36-year-old career scoring record held by three-time All-American and four-time All-SoCon selection Kirk Roach (1984-87) is within reach for WCU kicker Richard McCollum. A tremendous ambassador for the Catamounts over the years, Roach finished his Hall of Fame career with 302 points. McCollum has 294 points entering Saturday’s road game, just eight points shy of catching his shoeless-kicking counterpart.
VMI (4-6, 3-4 SoCon) looks to cap a tremendous first season under veteran head coach Danny Rocco as it honors its 27 seniors on Saturday. The Keydets seek a fifth seasonal win for just the fourth time in 20 years, while also finishing the league slate at 4-4 – this after finishing 1-10 and without a SoCon victory in eight tries in 2022.
The Keydets have scored victories over the bottom half of the SoCon this season – winning at home over Wofford with road victories at The Citadel in the annual gridiron grudge match and at ETSU to open November. VMI is winless against its two nationally-ranked opponents this season – Chattanooga and Furman – as it looks for its first ranked win since 2021 – but the Keydets did score an opening-weekend victory over playoff-hopeful Davidson, 12-7 in Lexington.
VMI’s defense boasts four of the top tacklers in the SoCon, paced by LB Evan Eller who is third in the conference with an average of 9.1 tackles per game. He’s flanked by Eric Rankin (6th, 8.4), Josh Knapp (8th, 7.7), and Christian Dunn (11th, 7.1). Offensively, Keydet tailback Hunter Rice ranks fourth in the league in rushing at 72.9 yards per game with 10 touchdowns, tied with two others for second behind WCU’s Desmond Reid with 12.
With a series that dates to 1978 and only includes meetings as fellow conference members, WCU holds a 25-4 edge in the head-to-head meetings including wins in 11 of the 14 previous trips to Lexington. It’s the third time since 2015 that WCU and VMI meet in the final game of the regular season – the second under head coach Kerwin Bell. The Catamounts matched a series-high by scoring 52 points in the 52-24 road win.
Game 11: Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 • Noon Location: Lexington, Va. (Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium – 10,000) Records: #18/14 Western Carolina (7-3, 5-2 SoCon) at VMI (4-6, 3-4 SoCon) Live Stats – VMI StatBroadcast
BROADCAST INFORMATION: TV Stream: ESPN+ (subscription required) Announcers: Chip Tarkenton and Cal Murray