Hokies 'special' in 41-23 win over Clemson
Royal reigns on punt returns, Harris scores on kick return
October 6, 2007
CLEMSON, S.C. - Virginia Tech scored three non-offensive touchdowns in the first half to jump out to an early lead, and eventually ran away to a 41-23 ACC football win over the Clemson Tigers on Saturday night in what was perhaps Tech's finest display of BeamerBall in quite some time. Free safety D.J. Parker scored on an interception return, wide receiver Eddie Royal took back a punt return, and Macho Harris did the same with a kickoff return as No. 14/15 Tech improved to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the ACC. The 22nd-ranked Tigers fell to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in conference. "I liked the feeling in that dressing room after the game," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "When you just find ways to win the game, it gives you hope. We're not quite there offensively and we've got to keep working, but I really believe we're getting closer every week." The Hokies wasted no time getting BeamerBall underway, when on the opening drive of the game - on third-and-19 from the Clemson 10-yard-line - Parker picked off a Cullen Harper pass and returned it 32 yards for the touchdown. Jud Dunlevy nailed the PAT at 13:50 to give Tech a 7-0 lead. It was the third interception return for a touchdown this season (Harris, 17 yards vs. ECU; Brandon Flowers, 49 yards vs. W&M). "It couldn't have started off any better for us," Beamer said. "It was a raucous crowd, and for us to get the crowd calmed down like that, it couldn't have started better." Tech forced the Tigers to punt on their next two possessions, and with nine minutes left in the first quarter, Royal got the Hokies' second offensive series started with a 33-yard punt return to the Clemson 42. A 22-yard Josh Hyman reception was sandwiched by a few short runs, and Dunlevy gave Tech a 10-0 lead with a 32-yard field goal from the right hash with 6:11 left in the first. After another defensive stop on the next drive, Royal one-upped his last return by taking this one 82 yards to the house for his second punt return touchdown of the season, and the third of his career. It tied for the third-longest punt return for a touchdown in school history, as Frank Loria had a 95-yard return in 1967, Andre Davis had an 87-yarder in 2000 and Bob Schweickert had an 82-yarder in 1963. Dunlevy converted the PAT at 4:48 to make it 17-0. Royal improbably returned another punt to the end zone on his next opportunity, but an illegal block in the back negated the play. He ended the game with 117 punt return yards, and is now in third place on the ACC's all-time list with 1,174 for his career. Clemson notched its initial points of the first half with 7:16 remaining in the second quarter when Mark Buchholz capped a 10-play drive with a 33-yard field goal to make it 17-3 in Tech's favor. The Hokies answered back on the very next play, though, when Harris completed Tech's touchdown return trifecta by taking the kickoff back 100 yards for six points. Dunlevy's PAT at 6:59 extended the lead to 24-3. Harris also had his sixth-career interception and four tackles to go with his second score of the season, which was the third of his career. The 100-yard return ties the longest in school history, as Larry Fallen returned one 100 yards in 1978, also at Clemson. Harris' touchdown return was the first on a kickoff for Tech since Mike Imoh recorded a 91-yarder against UConn in 2003, which was also the last time the Hokies scored three non-offensive touchdowns in three different ways. In that game, Eric Green added an interception return for a touchdown and Chris Clifton returned a blocked punt for a score. It was also the first time under Beamer that Tech has scored on both a punt return and a kickoff return in the same game. The first-half scoring was not done, however. After pinning the Hokies deep in their own territory on a punt, Clemson's Ricky Sapp and Phillip Merling sacked Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the end zone to record a safety and make the score 24-5 with 3:36 remaining. The Tigers' Buchholz would add a 30-yard field goal with seven seconds on the first-half clock to make it 31-8 at the break, but not before Tech added its fourth touchdown - this time on offense - when Taylor completed a 21-yard scoring pass to Justin Harper at 2:17. The freshman quarterback sidestepped an oncoming Clemson defender and found Harper wide open in the end zone to record the first receiving touchdown by a Tech wide receiver this year. The third quarter was played scoreless, but things picked back up in the fourth. At the 14:12 mark, Clemson's Harper - who completed a school-record 38 passes for 371 yards on a school-record 66 attempts - found Tyler Grisham for a 3-yard touchdown pass. Buchholz added a PAT to make it 31-15. Dunlevy answered with a 47-yard field goal at 7:10 to put Tech up 34-15, but Clemson kept its hopes alive when Harper hit Aaron Kelly for an 18-yard touchdown - and Grisham for the two-point conversion - at 4:29 to pull the Tigers within 11 at 34-23. Kelly (174 yards) and Grisham (100 yards) each hauled in 11 passes to make up for Clemson's lack of a running game, as the Hokies' limited the vaunted rushing duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller to a combined 12 yards on the ground. Tech clinched its fifth-straight win over Clemson when tailback Branden Ore plowed his way in from two yards out, and Dunlevy added a PAT, to set the final score at 41-23. For the game, Tayor netted just 65 yards through the air on 7-of-14 passing, but he rushed for a career-high 118 yards on 15 carries, including a key 52-yard romp late in the game to give Tech some breathing room. Defensively, linebackers Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi led a hard-hitting attack with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Defensive end Orion Martin added nine, and fellow end Nekos Brown tallied two sacks. "You've just got to make plays and hang in there," Beamer concluded. "Offensively, I think we have the pieces, we just have to get this thing refined. This is a good win for this football team and I think it gives us some hope going forward." Tech will travel to Durham next Saturday for a noon contest against Duke. Lincoln Financial Sports/Raycom will have the coverage. The Hokies beat the Blue Devils 36-0 last year at Blacksburg and the series is tied 7-7.