BLACKSBURG - Antoine Hopkins’ return of a fumble for a touchdown turned out to be the winning score and the Maroon defense stopped quarterback Tyrod Taylor inside the 5 on the final play of the game to secure a 13-7 victory over the White squad in a thrilling Maroon-White spring game played Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium.
Taylor guided the White team on a 73-yard march on the final drive of the contest. His 12-yard scramble to the Maroon 10 gave the White team a first-and-goal with six seconds left. On the next play, he tried to hit receiver Xavier Boyce coming across the back of the end zone, but the pass fell incomplete with a tick remaining.
On the final play of the game, Taylor looked to pass, but decided to scramble. White team linebacker Barquell Rivers and defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor both touched Taylor – Taylor wasn’t live in this game, so he wasn’t allowed to be tackled – at the Maroon 2. Officials blew the play dead at the 2 just as Taylor crossed the goal line.
“I don’t know. I thought the ball was over the goal line as the contact was being made,” Taylor said, with a smile.
He was all smiles after this one. The rising junior completed 16-of-33 for 188 yards, with a touchdown. At halftime, Taylor was presented with the President’s Award given to the players who demonstrate the most outstanding leadership during the offseason program and spring workouts and he also earned the George Preas Award presented to the MVP of spring practice.
“As far as the offense, I feel I am the No. 1 leader and that’s how I carry it,” Taylor said. “Of course, we have Darren Evans [who did not play in the spring game because of an injury] and some linemen who are going to lead, but I try to go out there and lead by example and show the guys that they can follow me.”
Taylor, though, was sacked three times in the game, including twice by Hopkins, the redshirt freshman from Highland Springs, Va., who could very well have been the defensive player of the game had such an honor been bestowed. The 6-foot, 295-pounder recorded both of his sacks in the second half and also scored the game-winner when he returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown with 2:54 left in the game. Hopkins scooped up the ball after Kam Chancellor jarred it loose from walk-on running back Zac Evans.
The Maroon team’s other score came early in the game when tailback Ryan Williams gave a glimpse of his immense potential, taking a screen pass from Ju-Ju Clayton 56 yards for a touchdown. Justin Myer missed the extra point, but the Maroon team took the early 6-0 lead.
Williams also had a splendid game. The redshirt freshman led everyone with 85 yards rushing on 10 carries, including one run of 36 yards. He caught two passes for 66 yards as well.
“When I get on the field and it’s my opportunity to shine, I want to be the big ‘X’ factor,” Williams said. “When it comes to crunch time, I want people to depend on me. I feel like I’m a clutch person. I feel I can always make big plays and I know what I’m capable of doing.”
“Explosiveness is the word with him,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “He runs with quickness, but the pile kept moving a couple of times there. One guy usually doesn’t bring him down.”
The touchdown pass to Williams was the highlight of the day for Clayton, a redshirt freshman from Richmond. Clayton, who had played so well in the past two scrimmages, completed just 4-of-15 for 103 yards, with one interception, and he also fumbled once.
“I take this as a learning curve,” Clayton said. “The spring game is important, but at the same time, this is just preparing for the season coming up. I’m going to watch the film and learn from my mistakes and go from there.”
“Ju-Ju just needs time,” Beamer said. “He has to take care of the football. Don’t give it to them. Don’t throw it if you don’t like it, but he will do that. I have great confidence that he will do that. He will learn from what happened out there today.”
The White team’s only score came late in the first half when Taylor led the White on an 80-yard march. The drive ended when Taylor found Dyrell Roberts for a 3-yard touchdown.
Roberts, a rising sophomore, led a nice day for the receivers, catching four passes for 65 yards and the touchdown. Tight end Chris Drager added four catches for 41 yards and Marcus Davis – who was just moved to receiver earlier in the week – caught three passes for 48 yards.
Defensively, cornerback Rashad Carmichael led all players with six tackles, including one for a loss. Hopkins finished with five tackles and both Stephan Virgil and Jake Johnson had four tackles each. Nekos Brown had three tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The only downer for the Hokies as a group on this day was the play of the special teams. The two squads combined to miss an extra point and a field goal, and neither punter averaged 40 yards a punt. Part of that, though, goes back to the snaps, which were poor at times.
“We need to have a talk with that special teams coach,” Beamer said, poking fun at himself since he handles much of the special teams. “I know it was sloppy today. What that tells me is that we need to settle on people and get them in there working. In the spring, you work everyone, but it’s not going to be that way in the fall. We’re going to make some quick decisions and go and make sure we’re better special-teams wise than we were today.
“But the encouraging thing today is that I think we’ve got some playmakers out there. We’ve got some guys who can do it. Dyrell had a good day and Ryan Williams had a good day. Tyrod can make plays with his arm and his feet … I think we’ve got some playmakers. Defensively we’ve got to keep going. We may be an end short or a linebacker short. But the good thing is we’ve got some time. Guys can get with Coach [Mike] Gentry and get physically better and they can get mentally better. We’ve got time, but we understand we’ve got a lot of work to do, too.”
Tech opens the season on Sept. 5 when the Hokies travel to Atlanta to take on Alabama in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff.
For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Football).
For updates on the Hokies, follow Jimmy Robertson on Twitter (@jrobIHS).