September 19, 2009
Late-game heroics stun Big Red; Hokies top Nebraska 16-15
By Matt Kovatch - Inside Hokie Sports
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(19) Nebraska (2-1) 390315
(13) Virginia Tech (2-1) 730616
  • Lane/Worsham Field - 66,233
  • Passing: Tyrod Taylor 192 yds
  • Rushing: Ryan Williams 107 yds
  • Receiving: Danny Coale 89 yds

BLACSKBURG – Down by five at their own 12-yard line with just 1:51 remaining in the game, the Virginia Tech offense – which had struggled all day – came to life and drove 88 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown with 21 seconds on the clock, helping the No. 13 Hokies to a 16-15 victory over No.19 Nebraska on Saturday at Lane Stadium.

“When you have great players on the field who have worked as hard as us and who care about each other as much as we do, that is what makes this win possible,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said after the game.

It was just the sixth non-conference, top-25 match-up in Lane Stadium history, and for most of the second half, it appeared as though the Cornhuskers (2-1) would emerge on top. But pinned deep in their own territory and not having done much in the way of yardage since a 76-yard kickoff return to open the game, the Hokies (2-1) provided a last-ditch effort that sent the Tech faithful spilling onto the field in front of a national audience to celebrate Tech’s 32nd consecutive non-conference win at home.

Having already burned all three timeouts to prevent the Nebraska offense from running out the clock, the Hokies, down 15-10, faced a second-and-6 from their own 16. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor bought himself some time before spotting an open Danny Coale on the right sideline. The junior heaved the ball as he was hit, and it hit the wide receiver in stride. Coale raced all the way to the Nebraska 3 before he was caught from behind by Cornhusker safety Matt O’Hanlon.

“Tyrod was looking around for something, and once he saw me, he just kind of let it go,” Coale said of the 81-yard reception, which he called the biggest catch of his life. “Luckily, he kept the play alive with his feet. Once I caught it, I knew someone was behind me somewhere, so I just tried to run away from him and stay inbounds.”

“Tyrod just kept scrambling, and we work on the scrambling drill all the time,” Beamer added. “The defensive back just lost Coale and it allowed Tyrod to hit him on the run. I think with Tyrod, you need an organized scramble drill and you need to know where and when to start running.”

After the play was reviewed to confirm that Coale had stepped out before reaching the end zone, Taylor took a sack for minus-8 yards and then threw an incompletion. On third-and goal from the 11 with 33 seconds to play, he scrambled around for what seemed like an eternity – nine seconds total – before rifling a pass to receiver Dyrell Roberts in the back of the end zone, giving Tech a one-point lead with 21 seconds on the clock.

“That play was the longest play I’ve ever been associated with in my life,” Roberts said of the game-winning touchdown. “That play felt like it took the whole fourth quarter. When I was running my route, I saw Tyrod scrambling and I saw him in trouble. I knew that our scramble drill was in play because he was buying all the time in the world. The only thing I was worried about was getting a slight separation [from the defender] so he could find me and fire it in there.”

“It comes natural to me,” Taylor said of his scrambling abilities. “When you’re a quarterback who can run, you try to buy time. My first year, I was buying time just to run, but now I’m buying time to find a receiver. Danny and Dyrell both made great plays.”

Tech’s two-point conversion failed, but the Hokie defense, which didn’t allow a touchdown for just the second time since Nov. 1, 2007, sealed the deal when cornerback Rashad Carmichael intercepted a Hail Mary pass in the waning seconds.

Up until the final drive, the Hokies’ offense hadn’t done much since the very first drive of the game, when Roberts got things started on the right foot by returning the opening kickoff 76 yards to the Nebraska 24-yard line. It was the second-longest return of the season for the Hokies, trailing only Roberts’ 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Alabama. After a Tech penalty and a pair of minus-yardage plays, Taylor connected with wideout Xavier Boyce for a 21-yard gain to the 13. Tailback Ryan Williams then got four straight carries, eventually pounding it into the end zone from a yard out for his sixth touchdown of the season. Kicker Matt Waldron converted the extra point at the 11:15 mark to give Tech a 7-0 lead.

Nebraska threatened following a 55-yard punt return to the Tech 22-yard line by Niles Paul late in the first quarter, but the Hokie defense held strong, pushing the Cornhuskers back a yard and forcing them into a 40-yard field goal by Alex Henery with 56 seconds remaining in the period.

Nebraska cut Tech’s lead to one with 12:49 left in the second quarter when a 28-yard Henery field goal capped a six-play, 48-yard drive that was aided by a Tech personal foul penalty.

Henery was back at it again on Nebraska’s next possession, connecting on a 19-yard field goal with 5:23 left in the first half, but it was the Cornhuskers’ Roy Helu, Jr., who did most of the work. The junior tailback accounted for 43 rushing yards and an 18-yard reception on the 10-play, 77-yard drive that gave the visitors a 9-7 lead.

Waldron helped the Hokies reclaim the lead, 10-9, with a 39-yard field goal that closed a possession keyed by a 46-yard rush by Williams. The lead didn’t last long, however, as a 31-yard run by Helu and a pass interference call on the Hokies got Nebraska back into Henery’s range. The Huskers’ kicker drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the half, this one a 38-yarder, with 18 seconds on the clock to give Nebraska a 12-10 cushion at the break.

Nebraska had a surefire scoring opportunity late in the third quarter when a Zac Lee 17-yard quarterback keeper left the Cornhuskers with a first-and-goal situation from the 6-yard line. Lee then actually completed a touchdown pass to tight end Todd McNeill, but it was negated by a holding penalty. Three more Nebraska penalties followed, relegating the Huskers to a fourth-and-goal from the 37-yard line, where they elected to punt.

Later on, Nebraska ate up over five minutes of clock in the middle of the fourth, ending a 10-play, 54-yard drive with Henery’s career-high fifth field goal of the day, this one from 38 yards with 4:33 remaining in the contest. The field goal not only made the score 15-10 in Nebraska’s favor, but it tied a Lane Stadium record for field goals in a game by an opponent. Virginia’s Rafael Garcia also hit five back in 1994.

Offensively for the game, Williams paced the Hokies by netting 107 yards rushing on 21 carries, while Boykin hauled in a team-high four passes for 43 yards. Taylor finished the game just 12-of-27 for 192 yards, with 92 of that coming on the final drive. He also rushed for minus-22 yards, but Beamer said afterward that he was invaluable.

“We don’t win that game without a quarterback who can throw the football and keep a play alive,” Beamer said. “There are some throws that he’d like to have back, and there are some great throws he made that got dropped. But the bottom line is we don’t win this ballgame if we don’t have a quarterback who is as athletic as Tyrod is and who can throw the ball down the field like that.”

Defensively, the Hokies withstood a career-high 169 rushing yards from Helu, who also led the Cornhuskers with four receptions for 33 yards. Tech linebacker Barquell Rivers led the way with 10 tackles, while Carmichael and cornerback Eddie Whitley added eight apiece. Defensive end Jason Worilds recorded five quarterback hurries, more than all other players in the game combined, to go with his five tackles. Free safety Kam Chancellor tallied his fifth career interception in the third quarter.

“This is one of those games that could turn things around if you build on it and learn from it,” Beamer concluded. “We need to learn from it – not only the great plays at the end, but all those things in between that we need to get better at. When you can win one like that and improve from it, that’s important to your season.”

The Hokies are scheduled to return to action next Saturday at Lane Stadium for their ACC opener, as Miami comes to town for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised by ABC.

For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Football).

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