By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Virginia Tech started finishing late in the first quarter and never stopped, scoring 41 unanswered points to make homecoming a happy occasion with a 41-20 Atlantic Coast Conference victory over Duke in front of 65,632 spectators at Lane Stadium.
The win kept the Hokies (4-3, 2-1) from their first three-game losing streak since 1992, while the Blue Devils (5-2, 2-1) will have to wait for another day to become bowl eligible.
Duke led 20-0 and had outgained the Hokies 144-11 with 3:12 left in the opening quarter, but Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer was confident, recalling that quarterback Logan Thomas had spoken during a team meeting earlier in the week urging the team to hang in there and keep playing.
“I think it really says something about the type of people in this program and again, the coaching staff and the players,” Beamer said. “Everyone just kept playing and that’s something special right there. It’s not easy to do.
“A lot of people would panic and start pointing fingers and our guys hung in there.”
It was all the Hokies from that point, scoring the final 41 points of the game and rolling up 525 yards to 329 for the Blue Devils. Duke had negative-2 yards in the third quarter as the Hokies scored 17 points to pull ahead from a 20-17 halftime deficit to a 34-20 lead.
It was the largest comeback for Virginia Tech in Beamer’s 26 seasons at the helm, beating the 17-point deficit the Hokies overcame against N.C. State in 2010.
No one enjoyed it more than the Virginia Tech defense, which had allowed 48 points and 533 yards in last week’s loss to North Carolina.
“We just played harder, we ran to the ball and played with more emotion and more passion and that is really it,” Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins said. “We just really went out and played really smart and played Hokie football.”
Virginia Tech had been able to narrow the 20-point deficit to 20-17 at the break when Cody Journell converted a 37-yard field goal following a Michael Cole interception deep in Hokies’ territory. Detrick Bonner also had his own pick and returned it 39 yards to the Duke 42 with 25 seconds on the clock.
Thomas then connected with wide open Marcus Davis for a 42-yard touchdown pass prior to the break.
“Having a couple turnovers at inopportune times in their end, which should have been points that didn’t, and in the case of the last one, it ended up producing points for them right before the half,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said.
That momentum continued after the break with the Hokies taking the lead 1:57 into the third quarter, with Thomas connecting with Ryan Mallack from 30 yards and J.C. Coleman — who finished with 183 yards and two scores — ran down the left sideline 45 yards to the end zone for a 24-20 lead
“Coach named me the starter this week and I just wanted to make sure whenever they call out my number that I was able to make plays,” said Coleman, who scored the last touchdown of the game on an 86-yard touchdown run.
“Everybody fought hard, the offense fought hard, the defense fought hard and the line gave me outstanding holes to run through and it was just great.”
While Duke continued to struggle on offense, Virginia Tech kept putting points on the board.
Coleman’s 13-yard run was soon followed on the Hokies’ next possession, with Davis beating the double team and snaring 47-yard touchdown pass.
That lead grew by three points when Journell connected on the Hokies’ next possession for a 41-yard field goal, building the margin to 34-20 with 1:50 left in the third quarter.d
Journell, a former standout at Giles High School, has now made 19 of his last 20 field goals dating back to last season.
“You have got to take it kick by kick, whether you miss or you make one, it is the same steps every time,” Journell said. “Focus in, I guess premeditating on the sidelines a little bit and get myself in the zone and tune everything out.”
Duke rarely challenged after the break, punting three times and finishing with negative-2 yards in the third quarter. They also lost two fumbles and turned it over on downs once in the final period.
Virginia Tech forced four turnovers and picked up the pressure in the second half, finishing with five sacks and eight tackles for loss.
“Give Virginia Tech credit, we didn’t match them physically … ,” Cutcliffe said. “Their defensive front won the battle and the their offensive front ended up winning the battle, and that’s how you come back in the game.
“When you have the lead, you still have to win the physical battle of the game and we couldn’t do that today.”
Duke used big plays with a little help from Virginia Tech to jump out to a 20-0 with 3:12 still left in the opening quarter.
Sean Renfree connected a with a perfect pass over the shoulder of Jamison Crowder and he dashed to the end zone while Kyle Fuller fell to the ground.
The Blue Devils got help from the Hokies on their next possession, with Virginia Tech called for 36 yards in penalties on one play — a pass interference and personal foul — leading to a 40-yard field goal by Ross Martin.
Another big play after a shanked punt by Virginia Tech’s A.J. Hughes followed with a 36-yard pass from Renfree to Connor Vernon. Martin then connected again from 28 yards for the 13-0 lead.
A bad bounce then brought Duke its fourth score on defense this season.
One play after Dyrell Roberts had bobbled a handoff, Thomas threw to Tony Gregory, who bobbled the ball and Duke’s Jordan Byas picked it off and dashed 20 yards for the score and the 20-0.
Virginia Tech heard the boo birds from the large crowd, but turned those to cheers on its next possession when Davis went up and outfought Lee Butler for the ball at the Duke 4. Martin Scales followed with a 4-yard run to put the Hokies on the board with 41 seconds left in the period.
Renfree threw for 235 yards and a score for the Blue Devils, but was sacked five times. Crowder had eight catches for 127 yards, but Duke was held to just 22 yards rushing by the Virginia Tech defense.
“It hurt today. It hurt a lot, particularly when you have a 20-point lead at one time,” Cutcliffe said. “In the end I thought that Virginia Tech, and as I told Coach Beamer after the game, ‘your team responded like a champion today.’
“Congratulations to them, they got it done.”
Thomas threw for 256 yards and two scores, both to Davis, who finished with five receptions for 144 yards. Thomas also had 50 yards on the ground. James Gayle paced the Hokies with nine tackles, including 2 1⁄2 for loss, while Maddy had two sacks. Cole and Maddy had an interception and fumble recovery.
The Hokies, already shorthanded on the offensive line, lost center Andrew Miller with an injury in the third quarter. Michael Via, who moved to center, has played everywhere, but left tackle in his career.
Virginia Tech returns to action on Saturday at Clemson.
The Tigers defeated the Hokies twice last season, including in the ACC Championship Game.
These Hokies will be ready.
“We are going to have to have it all four quarters, all 60 minutes, and there can’t be any plays off,” Thomas said. “We just have to keep grinding.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com
Duke..............................20 0 0 0 — 20
Virginia Tech..................7 10 17 7 — 41
Duke—Crowder 62 pass from Renfree (Martin kick), 12:16.
Duke—FG Martin 40, 7:31.
Duke—FG Martin 28, 4:05.
Duke—Byas 20 interception return (Martin kick), 3:12.
VT—Scales 4 run (Journell kick), :41.
VT—FG Journell 37, 2:15.
VT—M.Davis 42 pass from Thomas (Journell kick), :19.
VT—Coleman 45 run (Journell kick), 13:03.
VT—M.Davis 47 pass from Thomas (Journell kick), 6:55.
VT—FG Journell 41, 1:50.
VT—Coleman 86 run (Journell kick), 9:20.
First downs 20 19
Rushes-yards 29-22 39-269
Passing 307 256
Comp-Att-Int 25-42-2 14-23-1
Return Yards 34 57
Punts-Avg. 4-46.8 4-40.5
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 2-0
Penalties-Yards 8-50 8-86
Time of Possession 30:36 29:24
RUSHING—Duke, Duncan 5-15, Thompson 5-15, Powell 2-13, Snead 5-10, Connette 2-4, Boone 2-1, Team 2-(minus 6), Renfree 6-(minus 30). Virginia Tech, Coleman 13-183, Thomas 11-50, Gregory 8-33, Holmes 2-9, Roberts 1-1, Scales 2-0, Team 2-(minus 7).
PASSING—Duke, Renfree 20-33-1-235, Boone 5-9-1-72. Virginia Tech, Thomas 14-23-1-256.
RECEIVING—Duke, Crowder 8-127, Vernon 4-70, Scott 4-57, Blakeney 3-23, Thompson 2-12, Reeves 2-10, Duncan 2-8. Virginia Tech, M.Davis 5-144, Roberts 5-31, Dunn 2-48, Malleck 1-30, Coleman 1-3.