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Vanderbilt Holds Off #23 Charleston Southern on Homecoming Behind Johnny McCrary and Dallas Rivers

Johnny McCrary took over for Wade Freebeck and led his Commodores to their second win of the season. Charleston Southern was a game opponent, but Vandy outlasted the Buccaneers in a 21-20 victory Saturday night.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

An out-of-nowhere two-point conversion proved to be the difference between a win and overtime on homecoming. Vanderbilt got out to an early lead and held on to beat FCS foe Charleston Southern 21-20 on Saturday.

Johnny McCrary and a solid Commodore running game kept the 'Dores afloat despite a big upset bid from the Buccaneers. Vandy led 18-3 late in the second quarter and failed to score a point in the second half but got a big drive when it mattered most to post the team's second win of the season.

McCrary completed 10 of 16 passes for 169 yards (one touchdown, one INT) in his most meaningful action of the season. CJ Duncan (seven catches, 119 yards, one touchdown) and Dallas Rivers (11 carries, 47 yards, one touchdown) were instrumental in driving this team's offense to the win.

Wade Freebeck got off to a solid start at quarterback, going 4-4 for 23 yards on the team's opening drive. That set up a 39-yard Tommy Openshaw field goal that got Vandy off to a 3-0 lead. Charleston Southern responded by driving deep into Commodore territory and kicking a short field goal of their own. The two teams exchanged useless drives before Vandy made a change that gave them a real advantage on offense.

Redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary entered the game for Freebeck in the second quarter, a move that Mason told ESPN's halftime reporters had been planned all week. The redshirt freshman made an immediate impact, hitting CJ Duncan with his first pass of the game for a 65-yard touchdown. The play was Vandy's longest of the season and gave the 'Dores a 10-3 lead. One drive later, McCrary and true freshman Dallas Rivers ran the ball for another Commodore TD. A trick-play two-point conversion (caught by offensive weapon Andrew East) made this 18-3 late in the second quarter.

Vandy would let CSU back into this game behind a rare special teams miscue. A missed block allowed Lorenzo Mathis to block Colby Cooke's punt and pull off the scoop-and-score for six Charleston Southern points with 36 seconds left in the half. McCrary, however, was not ready to head to the locker room. He drove the 'Dores into Buccaneer territory before Openshaw hit a career-long 42-yard field goal to extend Vandy's lead to 21-10 at the half.

Vanderbilt could not extend that momentum to the second half. The two teams exchanged punts to open the third quarter before the Bucs exploited a lagging Vandy defense. Austin Brown and Mike Holloway found holes all over the field to lead CSU 78 yards to a touchdown that made this a one-possession contest in the third quarter. The Buccaneers squeezed in another David Kennedy field goal between a pair of Commodore punts and a McCrary interception to cut that lead to 21-20 with six minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

The Bucs had Vandy pinned at their own three-yard line, but McCrary and Rivers refused to let Charleston Southern ruin this team's homecoming game. McCrary rolled through his own end zone to find backup tight end Nathan Marcus for a huge first down, then Rivers bulldozed his way through a tired Southern defense to churn through first downs and burn clock as the 'Dores extinguished CSU's upset hopes.

While it may have not been the emphatic win Commodore fans were hoping for, Vanderbilt escaped homecoming with a victory. The #23 Buccaneers are unlikely to see their stock drop despite the loss thanks to their second-half resurgence in Nashville. Meanwhile, Vandy will have a chance to regroup with an upcoming bye week before traveling to Columbia to play Missouri.