Vanderbilt played musical chairs at quarterback, giving redshirt freshman Larry Smith his first career start in the program’s biggest game in decades. Chris Nickson also played, and Mackenzi Adams even got in for one play — on which he was roughed by Eagles linebacker Mark Herzlich, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s defensive player of the year, to help set up Hahnfeldt’s winning kick.
Herzlich said he was just trying to make a play.
“Either way, it wasn’t deliberately late,” Herzlich said.
But Eagles end Jim Ramella also was flagged for a face mask on that game-winning drive for Vanderbilt. The two penalties provided 30 of the 48 yards in that drive.
The difference came from Vandy punter Brett Upson. The bowl MVP averaged 42.6 yards on nine punts with a long of 58. A Vanderbilt defense that ranked second in the SEC for interceptions had two more picks for the game’s only turnovers.
Davis, in only his third career start, put the Eagles up 14-13 with a 55-yard TD pass to Colin Larmond Jr. with 6:38 remaining.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys playing,” Jagodzinski said.
The Commodores opened by scoring field goals of 42 and 26 yards from Hahnfeldt for a 6-0 lead. But the Eagles led 7-6 at halftime thanks to Davis’ 4-yard TD pass to Montel Harris with 1:27 left in the second quarter.
The Eagles lost center Matt Tennant to an injured left elbow early in the second and punt returner Rich Gunnel to an injury. Vanderbilt got its best player hurt a play later. All-SEC cornerback D.J. Moore helped break up Davis’ pass to Ifeanyi Momah, and safety Ryan Hamilton intercepted the ball at the Vandy 15. But Momah rolled over Moore’s left ankle, and he limped to the sideline.
Moore got his ankle taped and played in the second half but couldn’t finish. The junior said after the game he would leave early for the NFL draft.
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