BLACKSBURG – Only once in Frank Beamer’s tenure as the head coach at Virginia Tech had the Hokies allowed more than 20 points in the first quarter of a game and never had the team erased a deficit of more than 17 points at any point in a contest. That’s what they were facing just 12 minutes into Saturday’s game against Duke.
Thanks to a squad that never panicked, the Hokies were able to shut down the Duke offensive attack for most of the final 45 minutes and mount a comeback of historic proportions, claiming a 41-20 victory at Lane Stadium on Homecoming.
“I just told our football team that that was a great win for our football program,” Beamer said. “The circumstances, coming off two losses and getting down 20 to zip, I appreciate our players and their poise, our coaches’ poise and things worked out for us.
“I think it really says something about the type of people in this program. Again, the coaching staff and players, everyone just kept playing and that’s something special right there. It’s not easy to do.”
A 62-yard pass play for a touchdown and two Ross Martin field goals led to the Hokies trailing 13-0 early. The unthinkable happened moments later when a redshirt junior quarterback Logan Thomas’ pass bounced off the hands of redshirt junior Tony Gregory and into the waiting arms of Blue Devil safety Jordon Byas. Byas returned it for a touchdown and a Martin extra point made it 20-0 with 3:12 left in the first.
The points were the second-most allowed in a first quarter by Tech under Beamer, only surpassed by the 21 points scored by Georgia Tech on Sept. 30, 2006. The Yellow Jackets went on to defeat the Hokies 38-27 in that game.
Saturday’s Tech comeback began with a 4-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior Martin Scales with 41 seconds left in the first quarter, but Duke responded with another drive into Tech territory – its fourth of five possessions so far in the game. The Blue Devils faced a third-and-9 at the Tech 44, and Tech redshirt freshman Michael Cole came up with a big play, recording his first career interception.
“I just felt like I helped the defense out on a large scale, and I just hope that I can keep making these plays,” said Cole, who also recovered a fumble later in the game. “Today was a very important day for the secondary, so for us to come together and make some of these big plays that we needed to was important for us. We came out kind of struggling a little bit, but they [the Blue Devils] just made some good plays.
“My interception came at a big time, and it felt great to make that play for this team. It was pretty easy, though. It was basically like a punt. I just had a look at it and caught it. I would have liked to have more of a run after it, but my first interception, I got a little crazy out there.”
The Hokies turned that interception into a Cody Journell field goal to pull within 10 at 20-10. But again, the Blue Devils drove into Hokie territory and were on the verge of taking a bigger lead into the locker room.
On a first-and-10 at the Tech 29, Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw to Conner Vernon, but the ball glanced off Vernon’s hands and right into Detrick Bonner’s at the 19. Tech’s redshirt sophomore free safety returned to ball back to the Duke 42.
“I know that we’re young, but I knew that we would make plays eventually,” Bonner said. “We struggled there at first, but we are coming along with it. Today, we went up against two great receivers and they challenged us, and I felt like we did really well.
“On that interception … the ball was just tipped, and when you get those tips, you got to make plays. And then I was thinking I wanted to take it back. Who wouldn’t?
“Dang, if I would have gotten past that last man, I would have done it. But as soon as the pick came, we went down and scored, and I felt like it made a big impact.”
On the next play after Bonner’s interception, Thomas found Marcus Davis for a 42-yard touchdown strike, and the Hokies went into the half trailing by just three – a swing of at least seven points, if not 10 or more.
As a member of the ACC, the Hokies have never come back from a halftime deficit of more than 10 points and only twice under Beamer have pulled out a victory when trailing by 10 at the break – at N.C. State on Oct. 2, 2010 [when the Hokies trailed by 17 points and came back, which was, at the time, the largest comeback ever under Beamer] and at Georgia Tech on Oct. 28, 2004.
Tech scored on five straight possessions spanning both halves, and the defense forced Duke into three straight three-and outs and allowed just minus-2 yards in the third quarter, as the Hokies took the game’s first lead and pushed it to 34-20.
One more stand was needed by the defense, though, as Duke, which trailed by 14 at the time, had the ball inside the Tech 10, facing a second-and-7. One pass in the end zone was broken up by sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett and another was caught just out of the back of the end zone for an incomplete pass.
After a Duke false start penalty, a fourth-and-12 pass was broken up by Bonner, halting the 13-play drive by the Blue Devils. After the huge defensive play, the Hokies offense scored again on the first play from scrimmage when freshman J.C. Coleman scored on an 86-yard TD run, all but putting the game away.
“I thought our whole football team took a step forward today,” Beamer said. “Holding them out of the end zone, when it was a 14-point game, that was big.
“The defense didn’t give in. They hung in there and got them out of there on four downs, and I thought that was huge because, on the next play, J.C. goes for a long ways and that was the game right there.”
The comeback victory comes in Beamer’s 255th career victory as a head coach, tying him with Tom Osborne for seventh on the all-time list among FBS coaches, and it was also the program’s 200th win in Lane Stadium, making for a completely historic day.
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