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BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech freshman tailback J.C. Coleman, in his first collegiate start, rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Hokies rally from a 20-0 deficit en route to a 41-20 victory over Duke in ACC play on Saturday afternoon.
The comeback marked the largest by the Hokies under Tech head coach Frank Beamer, and with it, Tech snapped a two-game losing streak, moving to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the ACC. Duke – which lost to the Hokies for the 12th straight time, including nine straight since Tech joined the ACC – fell to 5-2 overall, 2-1 in league play.
The win also marked the 255th by Frank Beamer as a head coach, tying him with former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne for seventh place on the all-time list. He needs just three more victories to move past former BYU coach LaVell Edwards into sixth place on the list.
“I appreciate our players’ poise and I appreciate our coaches’ poise,” Beamer said after the game. “No one panicked, and things worked out for us.
“We had a team meeting on Thursday, and Logan [Thomas] got up and spoke a little bit. And he said if things don’t go right at first, just hang in there and keep playing. Our football team showed that a couple of times, the Georgia Tech game and this game. I think it really says something about the type of people in this program. Everyone just kept playing, and that’s something special right there. It’s not easy to do.”
Duke scored on its first three possessions, taking a 13-0 lead after back-to-back possessions ended with Ross Martin field goals. The Blue Devils then made it 20-0 when a pass by Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was bobbled by Tony Gregory into the hands of Duke safety Jordon Byas, who returned the gift interception 20 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 left in the first quarter.
Duke’s 20 first-quarter points were the second-most allowed in the first quarter by a Beamer-coached team (Georgia Tech, 2006). The Hokies had never won a game under Beamer when giving up 15 points or more in the first quarter.
“The mood was bad for a little bit,” Tech receiver Marcus Davis said. “Things hadn’t been going our way all year. It’s something you have to fight through, and I’m glad to see us pull together. We just got it clicking.”
From Byas’ interception onward, the Hokies dominated the game. Arguably, Tech’s biggest two plays came toward the end of the first half when Detrick Bonner intercepted a pass by Duke’s Sean Renfree and returned it 39 yards to the Duke 42. On the next play, Thomas threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Davis with 19 seconds remaining in the first half that cut Duke’s lead to 20-17.
In the third quarter, Tech scored on its first three possessions and held the Blue Devils without a first down to blow the game open. On the Hokies’ first possession of the half, Coleman scored on a 45-yard run to give Tech its first lead. Thomas hooked up with Davis again, this time for a 47-yard touchdown strike, as the Hokies built a 31-20 advantage, and then Cody Journell’s 41-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the quarter pushed the lead to 34-20.
Duke tried to climb back in it, driving to the Tech 9 early in the fourth quarter. But on fourth-and-12 from the Tech 14, a Renfree pass fell incomplete. On the next play, Coleman burst down the sidelines 86 yards for a touchdown to seal things for Tech.
Coleman’s 183 yards came on just 13 carries. His rushing total is the most by a true freshman under Beamer and tied for the ninth-most in a single game under Beamer. His 86-yard touchdown run was the fifth-longest run from scrimmage in VT history and the ninth-longest play. As a team, Tech rushed for a season-high 269 yards.
“Coach Beamer gave me the start this week, and I just wanted to make sure that, whenever they called my number, I wanted to make plays,” Coleman said. “Everyone fought hard. The offense fought hard, and the defense fought hard. The line gave me outstanding holes to run through, and it was great.”
“We needed to get someone going,” Beamer said of the rationale behind having Coleman start. “We just needed something, and I thought J.C. was that guy today [Saturday].”
Thomas and Davis also aided in the Hokies’ 525-yard day. Thomas completed 14 of 23 for 256 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, and Davis caught five passes for a career-high 144 yards and two touchdowns. He caught passes of 47, 42 and 40 yards in the game.
Tech’s much-maligned defense, which had given up at least 495 yards of offense in the Hokies’ three losses, played arguably its best game of the season, holding the Blue Devils to 22 yards rushing and 329 total yards. More importantly, the Hokies forced four turnovers and sacked Duke quarterbacks a season-high five times. The game marked just the second multi-sack game for the Hokies this season.
“As a whole, we haven’t been playing up to our potential,” said Tech defensive end James Gayle, who had nine tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, and a sack. “Today, we showed a little bit about what we’re capable of doing when we get out there and do it.”
Renfree paced the Blue Devils’ attack, completing 20 of 33 for 235 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
The Hokies continue conference play next Saturday when they travel to Clemson, S.C., for a battle with the Clemson Tigers. Kickoff for the game is slated for noon.
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