BLACKSBURG – Cody Journell booted a 41-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to tie the game and then nailed a 17-yard field goal in overtime to lift Virginia Tech past Georgia Tech 20-17 in a season opener thriller Monday night at Lane Stadium.
The Hokies moved to 18-8 in season openers under head coach Frank Beamer and won their 13th opener in the past 17 attempts. Maybe more importantly, the Hokies won for the fifth time in their past six meetings with the Yellow Jackets in a series in which the winner usually takes the ACC’s Coastal Division crown.
“I told my football team how proud I was, and to come back and win that football game after the way it looked at times … it just says so much about the players believing and making plays when they had to,” Beamer said. “I like the potential of this football team.
“Things have a way of working out for guys who keep on believing and keep on playing. I’m really proud. I really think this is something … our football team got closer tonight [Monday night].”
The Hokies appeared to be toast after Georgia Tech drove 72 yards in 13 plays and scored a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Tevin Washington to Deon Hill with 44 seconds left in regulation to take a 17-14 lead. But Virginia Tech went on a desperation drive of its own.
Taking over at their 25 with 44 seconds left, the Hokies marched 51 yards, with the final 23 coming on a fourth-down completion from quarterback Logan Thomas to receiver Corey Fuller. The Hokies called a timeout with six seconds left to set up the attempt.
Georgia Tech then called a timeout to “ice” Journell. But the redshirt junior from Ripplemead, Va., - who missed a 38-yarder earlier in the game – drilled a 41-yarder to tie the game at 17 and send it to overtime.
In overtime, the Hokies won the toss and elected to play defense first. On third-and-goal from the 10, Washington rolled to his left, but was drilled by Virginia Tech backer Bruce Taylor just as he threw the ball. Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller intercepted the pass, and all the Hokies needed to win was a field goal.
They got it moments later, as the offense drove to the Georgia Tech 1, setting up the game-winning 17-yarder. Journell was mobbed by his teammates afterward.
“I really just try to clear my head of everything when I’m on the field,” Journell said. “When I missed the first one [his 38-yard miss], just having the support of my teammates and my coaches, they were telling me, ‘Hey, keep your head in the game. We need you out there.’ So I just let everything go and did what I needed to do. I knew what I did the first time, so I just made sure I didn’t repeat my mistake.”
The Hokies struggled offensively for three quarters and appeared to be in trouble after David Scully’s field goal gave the Yellow Jackets a 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. But Virginia Tech responded, scoring seven minutes later when Thomas fired a 42-yard touchdown pass to Demitri Knowles to give the Hokies a 14-10 lead with 7:46 remaining.
The Hokies amassed 326 yards of offense, with Thomas completing 21 of 38 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Afterward, he took the blame for the Hokies’ offensive struggles, as Virginia Tech drove into Georgia Tech territory on six of its first nine possessions in the game and only scored one touchdown – a 5-yard scoring pass from Thomas to tight end Eric Martin.
“I just struggled. I wasn’t putting the ball where it needed to be,” said Thomas, who threw for 140 of his 230 yards passing in the fourth quarter. “Underthrows, overthrows … just very sporadic. In the end, I started picking it up and putting the ball where it needed to be when it counted. Ultimately, we got the win.”
Corey Fuller, though, came up with the big plays to bail the Hokies out. He jumped on a Marcus Davis fumble to preserve a Virginia Tech possession that ultimately ended with Thomas’ touchdown pass to Knowles. And his 23-yard fourth-down reception set up the game-tying field goal by Journell.
“I knew I had it in me,” Fuller said. “I had to step up. D.J. [Coles] went down [with a knee injury], and Marcus [Davis] went down [shoulder injury]. I just had to step up and make plays, and I knew I could make those big plays. So I just went out there and let loose.”
Washington paced Georgia Tech’s offense, rushing for 63 yards on 19 carries and throwing for 96 yards. The Yellow Jackets finished with just 288 yards of offense.
The Hokies now get ready for a quick turnaround, with FCS opponent Austin Peay coming to town for a Saturday contest. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m.
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