By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Saturday was a “get-well” game for Virginia Tech, and their vital signs looked stronger, though by no means flawless, as their home opener wore on.
In their first football meeting ever, the Hokies mashed the Catamounts of Western Carolina 45-3 on a beautiful afternoon at Lane Stadium.
Virginia Tech (1-1) put its 35-10 game-one loss to Alabama further into the past, while handing the visitors from Cullowee, N.C., their 12th straight defeat.
Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas completed 17 of 31 passes for 200 yards, though his targeting of his mostly-new receiving corps was off on a number of throws, and he was intercepted twice in the first half.
Ten Hokies caught passes, and five runners — not including Thomas — accounted for 237 yards on the ground.
The Virginia Tech defense harassed WCU quarterback Eddie Sullivan and the Catamount runners most of the day, while the Hokies secondary was up to its task against their Football Championship Subdivision opponents.
Western Carolina (0-2) managed 162 yards of offense. The Hokies intercepted three passes and forced eight WCU punts.
Virginia Tech senior linebacker Jack Tyler said, “I like the way our defense played. If we clear up a few things, I think we’ll be a dominant defense.” Tyler led the defensive stats with 11 tackles, three of them solo.
Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said, “Experience is the best teacher, and each week we are going to see guys get better.”
The Hokies defense put the first points on the massive new VT video board. Freshman Kendall Fuller tipped a Sullivan pass and safety Detrick Bonner snatched the ball and ran it 37 yards down the sideline for the score.
“Plays like that are momentum-swinging, game-changing plays,” Tyler said.
Only once in the first half did the Catamounts advance into Virginia Tech territory, reaching the 41-yard line on a 15-yard keeper by Sullivan.
Bonner picked Sullivan’s pass off on the next play and treated the home fans to an entertaining 35-yard runback, including a hurdle of a would-be tackler.
Early in the second quarter, Thomas surpassed his passing yardage total from the Alabama game. That 87-yard drive ended with a one-yard touchdown dive by Trey Edmunds.
The final touchdown of the half came on Virginia Tech’s next possession. Thomas hit D.J. Coles on a post route for a 19-yard score and with Cody Journell’s kick, the home squad led 21-0 at intermission.
Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir said, “At halftime we were 2 for 11 (passing) with three picks and that just kills you.”
Chris Mangus, a redshirt freshman for the Hokies, had his moment in the spotlight when he took a pitch, avoided a tackle for loss, threaded the needle between defenders and ran 76 yards down the home sideline to open the second-half scoring.
The Catamounts got their only points after recovering a ball that glanced off the leg of Virginia Tech punt returner Kyshoen Jarrett. The play set up a 28-yard field goal by Richard Sigmon.
Bonner said not getting a shutout was “a little heartbreaking.” But he said, “Honestly, mistakes happen. We just told him (Jarrett) to keep his head up.”
Virginia Tech put the game away with another short TD run by Edmunds, a 30-yard field goal by Journell, and a 13-yard run by backup Joel Caleb with 3:13 left in the game.
Coles and Willie Byrn tied for the longest pass reception of the day, 19 yards. Byrn had four grabs for 58 yards. Virginia Tech reserve quarterback Mark Leal was 3 for 4 passing for 25 yards and ran once for 11 yards. Thomas did not have a rushing attempt.
Thomas said about the Hokies’ 237-yard rushing performance, “If we can keep a running game going, it’s going to make my job a lot easier.”
New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said, “We need to have a faster start, but we improved in some areas. We have established that we have the ability to run it.”
Hokies head coach Frank Beamer said, “We’re a work in progress. I think we’re going to continue with the plan of getting better. ... Some of it was ragged, but I thought we took another step today, and did some good things.”
“I’m pleased with our effort. I’m pleased with the attitude of this football team. Now, we’ve just got to keep on working, week to week, and make sure we’re ready for ACC play.”
Speir said that Virginia Tech was “coming off of a tough loss last week. They rebounded and we expected nothing but their very best and they gave it to us.”
He said the Catamounts were without five of their starters, adding, “I’m proud of our guys. I thought we fought hard.”
Beamer said, “They have some good players that came in here and played hard and played tough. I give them credit and wish them luck in their Southern Conference play.”
Tech tidbits: The game was a battle of teams with unique nicknames. There are no other football-playing NCAA universities calling themselves Hokies or Catamounts. The Catamounts of the University of Vermont do not field a football team.
Bonner’s first-quarter score was the first defensive touchdown by Virginia Tech since the 2010 ACC championship game.
The new Lane Stadium display system, completed earlier this summer, measures 61 by 145 feet including speakers on the sides. The LED video board covers approximately 5,184 square feet. It replaced a 13-year-old board that measured 22 by 38 feet.
Virginia Tech won its 24th home opener in Beamer’s 27 years as coach. The Hokies, members of the Southern Conference from 1922 to 1964, are now 12-1-1 against current Southern Conference schools.
Attendance was announced at 61,335, short of a sellout by more than 4,000.
Having dispatched Western Carolina, the Hokies’ next opponent is East Carolina, next Saturday on the road.
— Contact Tom Bone at