Fourth-quarter fury foils Florida State 40-21
By Matt Kovatch
November 10, 2007

Box Score VT 40, FSU 21
 
BLACKSBURG, Va. - Despite beginning the fourth quarter down by one point, the No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies scored 20 unanswered in the fourth to run away with a 40-21 victory over Florida State on Saturday in ACC football action at Lane Stadium.

The win moved Tech to 8-2 on the season (5-1 in the ACC) and snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Seminoles (6-4, 3-4 ACC) that dated back to 1975. The Tech offense racked up 395 yards of total offense on the way to its fourth 40-plus point performance in the last seven games, but it wasn't until late in the fourth quarter that the Hokies felt completely safe against the crew of Bobby Bowden, who hadn't lost to the Hokies in 15 career tries as a college football coach.

"I'm obviously pleased to beat a really talented, well-coached and hard-playing football team," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "If you can beat Florida State, you've done something. But to me, it's not so much that streak as it is a critical win in the home stretch of going for the ACC Championship."

Although the Hokies enjoyed a 20-6 lead in the halftime locker room, the third quarter ended with them down 21-20 after the Seminoles limited them to just one first down and 30 yards in the period, all while accumulating 15 unanswered points. Tech got back to its first-half form in the fourth, however, matching FSU's 15 and adding five more for good measure.

"In the third quarter, I don't know what was going on - we just weren't executing like we should," split end Josh Morgan said. "But we practice every day and all season we've said that we've got to be the best in the fourth quarter no matter what game it is, and that's what we did."

The momentum swung in the Hokies' favor early in the period, when Justin Harper hauled in a 45-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor at the FSU 1. The ball got backed up to the 3 after a pair of 1-yard losses by Kenny Lewis, Jr., but Taylor scrambled into the end zone on third-and-goal with 10:10 on the clock before lofting a two-point conversion on the run to Zach Luckett to give Tech a 28-21 lead.

Jud Dunlevy chipped home a 22-yard field goal at 5:32 to make it a comfortable 10-point game, but Tech was far from done. On FSU's second play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Tech's Chris Ellis picked off a Christian Ponder pass (Ponder took over for the injured Drew Weatherford in the second quarter) at the 5 and took it in for Tech's seventh non-offensive touchdown of the season. Dunlevy's PAT at 5:13 made it 38-21.

Just 12 seconds later, the Hokies ended all hope for the Seminoles when Brandon Flowers made his fourth interception of the season at the FSU 25 before returning it 11 yards to the 14. Tech couldn't punch it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but after turning the ball over on downs, the Hokie defense sacked back-up FSU quarterback D'Vontrey Richardson in the end zone for a safety at 2:41 to set the final score at 40-21.

Though the defense accounted for Tech's final nine points, it was the Hokie offense that looked the most impressive leading up to that point. The Hokies opened the game by rotating Taylor and Sean Glennon at quarterback to keep the Seminoles guessing, but it was Taylor who turned in the career day in his first action since leaving the Duke game with an ankle injury. The freshman finished the day 10-of-15 for 204 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and added 92 yards and a score on the ground.

"I felt very comfortable," Taylor said when asked about the two-headed quarterback situation. "It kind of threw the defense off at first because they didn't know who to prepare for. We were going to continue to rotate, but unfortunately Sean got hurt (he got his bell rung early in the second quarter and didn't return until late in the fourth) and I had to play the remainder of the game."

Another Hokie who turned in a career performance was senior wide out Justin Harper, who hauled in five catches for a personal-best 167 yards - the fifth-most receiving yards tallied in a single game under Beamer. Included in those totals was a 31-yard touchdown catch, as well as a pair of 40-yard plus receptions that kept other scoring drives alive.

"Coming into this game, we knew from a receiver standpoint that we were going to have a chance to make a lot of plays because [FSU] plays a lot of man [coverage]," Harper said. "We feel like we can run by anybody, and Coach Beamer gave us the opportunity to do that tonight.

"I didn't know I was going to break out that big, but Coach [offensive coordinator Bryan] Stinespring always tells us he's going to give us opportunities and we just have to take full advantage of them. That's what I did tonight."

The Seminoles opened the game's scoring with 9:43 on the first-quarter clock after a 41-yard field goal by Gary Cismesia, the result of 7-play, 16-yard drive that began at the Tech 40 after the Hokies punted from their own 8.

The Hokies answered right back on the next possession, when following a 22-yard kickoff by Victor Harris to the Tech 34 and an 18-yard rush by Branden Ore, Taylor entered the game for the first time. He gained two yards on a keeper before finding a wide-open Harper for a 31-yard touchdown pass at 8:16. Dunlevy missed the extra point attempt wide right and the Hokies led 6-3.

Florida State knotted the score at 6-6 just before the first quarter horn, as Cismesia added a 39-yard field goal to cap a 9-play, 44-yard drive.

The Hokies would add two more touchdown scores in the second quarter to make it a 20-6 halftime score, which is the most points scored against the Seminoles in a first half since Clemson put up 24 in the season opener.

The first came at the 12:29 mark on a 5-yard scoring pass from Taylor to Josh Morgan on the eighth play of a 45-yard drive that looked to be over before it even started. It began with 46 seconds remaining in the first, when an offensive pass interference call on Tech's Josh Hyman moved the Hokies back to their own 40. An incompletion, a one-yard loss by Ore and a false start penalty backed the ball even further to the 34 to make it third-and-31, but Taylor pulled a 38-yard scramble out of his sleeve to revive the drive. Ore then rushed for a yard, and Glennon subbed in as part of the quarterback rotation that had gone on throughout the first quarter. He was shaken up on a 4-yard run, and Taylor re-entered to toss a 16-yard pass to Greg Boone that moved Tech to the FSU 7. A 2-yard run by Ore preceded the Morgan score, which was the 15th of his career and tied him for fourth on Tech's all-time list with Sidney Snell and Carroll Dale. Dunlevy's PAT gave the Hokies a 13-6 cushion.

After a three-and-out on FSU's ensuing possession, Tech extended its lead to 20-3 at 6:54 with an Ore touchdown and a Dunlevy PAT. Tech started at its own 12, but key plays included a 14-yard reception by Hyman, a 17-yard scamper by Lewis and a 48-yard catch by Harper that got the Hokies to the FSU 4. Ore then recorded a pair of 2-yard plunges, with the second getting him into the end zone and tying him for ninth place in career scoring at Tech with 180 points with James Barber and Cyrus Lawrence.

The Seminoles began their comeback in the third quarter, scoring 15 unanswered points to briefly take the lead at 21-20. Cismesia drilled his third field goal of the day at the 11-minute mark from 50 yards out, banking the try off of the right upright to make the score 20-9.

Tech tried to respond on the next series, but on third-and-10 from the Tech 35, Taylor threw an errant pass behind the intended Harper, and it was picked off at the 40 by FSU's Dekoda Watson. The Seminoles' linebacker returned it 40 yards for the score, but the two-point conversion attempt was no good and FSU closed the gap to 20-15.

FSU continued its third quarter success on their next drive, going 54 yards in seven plays to take a 21-20 advantage with 3:41 on the clock. The drive culminated with an 8-yard scoring toss from Ponder to De'Cody Fagg in the back of the end zone. The two-point try was once again no good.

"There were some great plays at the end," Beamer finished. "I'm really proud of our football team, our coaches, the whole deal. What this means is we're still in the ACC Championship race. I feel like we have things rolling well. I worry about injuries, but I feel really good about the way this thing ended up."

Tech will host Miami next Saturday, Nov. 17th at 3:30 p.m., with the game being televised by ABC. Twenty seniors will be honored before their last home game.