BLACKSBURG – Antone Exum’s interception with just over three minutes left in the game set up Cody Journell’s game-winning 29-yard field goal on the final play, as Virginia Tech outlasted Virginia 17-14 in an ACC game play on a bitterly cold afternoon at Lane Stadium.
With the win, the Hokies moved to 6-6 overall, 4-4 in the ACC. More importantly, the Hokies became bowl eligible and will extend their streak of bowl games to 20 consecutive years – the third-longest current active bowl streak among FBS teams.
“I’m really, really proud of our football team,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “The way the season has gone, there have been some tough losses, but this team never stopped playing hard and never stopped trusting each other.
“Sometimes, you find out more about people when things are really, really tough than when everything is good, and we’ve got some really good people on this football team, some good character guys you want around you. I’m really proud of this team.”
“We didn’t want to be that team to not make a bowl game and to lose to UVa,” Exum said. “We didn’t want that to change. Coming into the game, we knew everything was on the table, and that’s how we performed today.”
The Hokies extended their winning streak over Virginia (4-8, 2-6 ACC) to nine consecutive times and for the 13th time in the past 14 meetings in the rivalry. Thus, Tech retains possession of the Commonwealth Cup – a silver vessel that is going to remain in backer Bruce Taylor’s hands for at least the remainder of the weekend.
Taylor, a senior, gave warning to any of his teammates who might be thinking of trying to take it from him.
“You see this Kung-Fu grip,” Taylor told the media in the postgame news conference. “If they (his teammates) can pry it from my hands, they can have it. But I don’t see that happening.”
It was a tad hard to see the Hokies retaining the cup in the third quarter, as the Hokies trailed 14-7. But Tech managed to tie the game when quarterback Logan Thomas capped a 15-play, 85-yard march by scoring on a 4-yard run with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
Tech appeared to be in great shape to take the lead late in the game after driving to the UVa 24. But kicker Cody Journell pulled a 42-yard attempt wide left in the swirling winds of the south end of Lane Stadium with 3:38 left in the game, and UVa took over.
Two incomplete passes by UVa quarterback Michael Rocco left the Cavaliers facing third-and-10. Rocco tried to hit receiver Tim Smith, but Exum stepped in front of Smith and intercepted the pass at the UVa 36. He returned it to the UVa 24, giving the Hokies the ball with 3:21 remaining.
“The series before, he (Smith) had tried to do a corner route, and I think he knew that I knew he was going to try to do a corner route,” Exum said. “He bulldozed me, just to try to bully me in his route, and I just undercut him. The quarterback threw it right to me.”
Tech drove to the UVa 10, using nearly all the clock. On third-and-7, Thomas kept the ball and ran to the center of the field before falling down at the 12. He called timeout with four seconds left to set up a 29-yard attempt by Journell.
Journell drilled it as time expired for his second game-winning field goal this season.
“I tried to play the wind a little bit on the first one, and it didn’t work out for me,” Journell said. “The second time, I just pushed it through the wind, and it worked out for me.”
Journell’s kick capped things on a day when the Hokies’ offense struggled to move the ball consistently in the blustery, windy conditions. But a defense that held UVa to just 217 total yards, forced two turnovers and sacked Rocco twice bailed out the Hokies.
Rocco and Phillip Sims teamed to go just 17 of 36 for 187 yards. UVa’s ground game managed just 30 yards.
“We were strong up front, and Coach (Bud) Foster (Tech’s defensive coordinator) had his guys well prepared,” Beamer said. “We were flying to the football and tackling well for the most part, and that’s a team that’s moved the ball against some pretty good people, too. I thought we were well prepared.”
Tech grabbed a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to tight end Randall Dunn, but UVa answered late in the first half with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Rocco to Smith to tie the game at 7. The Cavaliers then grabbed a 14-7 lead in the third quarter when Thomas fumbled and UVa’s Brent Urban returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
Despite the fumble, Thomas pretty much was the Hokies’ offense in this one. He accounted for 228 of Tech’s 303 yards. He completed just 18 of 38 for 129 yards and the touchdown, but rushed a career-high 29 times and finished with 89 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“With the conditions like they were, it was tough to do anything in the passing game,” Thomas said. “We wanted to attack them down the field, but the wind was swirling.
“I didn’t have a problem putting things on my shoulders. I’ve had a couple of games with 25-plus carries, so I didn’t have a problem with it. We did a great job up front all day.”
Tech now awaits its bowl destination. The Hokies could find themselves in either Orlando, Fla.; El Paso, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; or Charlotte, N.C., for the holidays.
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