BLACKSBURG – As the seconds wound down, the rain grew steadier and the deficit remained stuck at seven points, several members of the Virginia Tech football team started to have bad images creep into their minds.
“I didn’t think it wasn’t going to happen for us, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘This really feels like JMU all over again,’” receiver Willie Byrn said, referring to the Hokies’ 2010 loss at home to James Madison.
Thanks to Byrn and several others who made big plays, though, the Hokies came up with enough points to pull past visiting Marshall 29-21 in three overtimes in the pouring rain at Lane Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Somehow, the Hokies moved to 3-1 overall on the season. Marshall, a member of Conference USA, fell to 2-2.
“I give our players a lot of credit,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “We just kind of battled and kept working. I really believe we became a better football team today. When kids hang in there together and find a way to get it done, that builds your football team. That builds chemistry. That builds trust. That builds togetherness. Those are some big, big things when you’re trying to develop a football team and playing as many young guys as we’re playing.”
Tech quarterback Logan Thomas finally managed to give the Hokies the lead in the second half and overtime periods. His 2-yard touchdown run in the third overtime gave Tech a 27-21 lead. According to NCAA rules, teams must go for two points after scoring a touchdown in the third overtime and subsequent overtime periods, and Thomas took care of that, too. He bulled in from the 2 to give Tech a 29-21 bulge.
Marshall had one last opportunity, and the Herd got to the Tech 14 after a 1-yard run by Essray Taliaferro. But three straight incomplete passes by quarterback Rakeem Cato ended the game, and the Herd left the field feeling as if they should have won the game.
For the Hokies, they felt fortunate to get the breaks for once.
“Considering our past history, it usually doesn’t bounce our way,” Thomas said. “But when you keep fighting, when you keep bringing the effort every single time … luck doesn’t just appear for no reason.”
Tech’s offense struggled for much of the game, but that unit came up with a big drive and score in the final minutes of regulation. Thomas marched the Hokies all the way to the Marshall 2, where they faced a fourth-and-goal. Thomas lofted a pass to Byrn on an out pattern in the end zone, and the pass was nearly intercepted by Marshall’s Darryl Roberts.
Roberts tipped the ball in the air right into the hands of Byrn, who caught it and got a foot inbounds for the touchdown. Ethan Keyserling, subbing for a suspended Cody Journell, hit the extra point to tie the game at 21 with 3:09 remaining.
“The guy [Roberts] made a good play on it,” Byrn said. “He undercut it and came flying off the end. He made a good play. He just tipped it up. I was just lucky to see it and keep my feet in. It was luck more than anything. I’m just glad something went our way.”
Marshall had a chance to win it in regulation, driving to the Tech 39. But on third-and-15, Cato went for it all, and Tech’s Kyshoen Jarrett intercepted the ball with 1:07 left, ending the threat.
In the first overtime, Tech got the ball first, but a disastrous possession that featured a sack and a dropped pass resulted in the Hokies attempting a 50-yard field goal. Keyserling came up well short, meaning that Marshall only needed a field goal to win the game on its possession.
The Herd ran three straight running plays and then lined up for a 39-yard attempt by Justin Haig. But Tech’s Derrick Hopkins blocked the attempt, keeping the Hokies in the game.
“That’s something we’ve gotten away from lately, and it’s something we’ve really been harping on to get back in this program,” mike linebacker Jack Tyler said. “We want to get the Beamerball M.O. back and block some kicks.
“Quite frankly, it won the game today. It goes to show that special teams are that important.”
In the second overtime, J.R. Collins sacked Cato and forced him to fumble, and Hopkins nearly the won the game for Tech. He picked up the loose ball and ran toward the end zone, but Taliaferro chased him down and tackled him to prevent Hopkins from scoring. On Tech’s possession of the second overtime, Keyserling missed a 32-yard field goal wide right – his third miss of the game – sending the game to a third overtime.
Hopkins’ block was one of two in the game for the Hokies. Kyle Fuller blocked a punt in the first quarter, and Derek DiNardo picked it up and returned it for a touchdown to give the Hokies a 7-0 lead.
It marked Tech’s first blocked punt against an FBS team since the Boise State game to open the 2010 season. Tech also blocked an extra-point attempt in that game.
The Hokies finished with 382 yards on the day. Trey Edmunds rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries, and Thomas completed 18 of 34 for 181 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions.
The Herd tallied 361 yards, led by Taliaferro’s 105 yards rushing and Cato’s 228 yards passing. But Marshall did not score in the second half or overtime after putting 21 points up against Tech’s defense in the first half.
“I thought we got more comfortable with what they were trying to do,” Tyler said. “We figured out where they were trying to exploit us, what they were trying to do, and we just made adjustments.
“That’s what Coach [Bud] Foster is good at. He’s the best defensive coordinator in the nation for a reason. Watch one half of football, change up what we’re doing and it’s going to be successful. We all had confidence in him and all we had to do was run the defense and we were going to be successful.”The Hokies now move into conference play, where they take on Georgia Tech in Atlanta next Thursday night. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
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