BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech’s defense recorded eight sacks and kicker Cody Journell hit four field goals to lift the 24th-ranked Hokies past the Pittsburgh Panthers 19-9 in an ACC game played Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium.
With the win, Tech moved to 6-1 overall on the season, 3-0 in the ACC and became bowl eligible for the 21st consecutive year. Pittsburgh, which beat the Hokies 35-17 last season and had beaten Tech four straight times dating back to when the schools resided in the BIG EAST Conference, fell to 3-2, 2-2 in league play.
The Hokies have now won nine of their past 10 games dating back to last season and six straight after dropping their season opener to No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta.
“I really like this football team,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “They play hard. They play together. They’ve got each other’s backs. We don’t always play great, but we play hard. That’s all you can ask. I think we’ve got to keep getting better. That’s got to be the deal here. But we beat a good football team, and I’m proud of our team.
“We’re not good enough right now. We’ve played a record number of freshmen and redshirt freshmen, guys playing their first ball game, and to be able to be here sitting 6-1, I give a lot of credit to our coaches and to our players. That’s pretty significant.”
Tech’s offense cobbled together enough scoring to put the Panthers away, but the story of this game was the play of the Hokies’ defense. Coordinator Bud Foster’s unit recorded eight sacks – the second-most sacks under Beamer (9, Pittsburgh, 1999) – and held the Panthers to only 23 yards on the ground.
Pittsburgh came into the game averaging more than 400 yards of offense per game, but finished with just 210.
Coming in, we knew we had to stop the run first,” said Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, who recorded two of the Hokies’ eight sacks. “Once they had to pass, we felt we could get after them a little bit. Pass protection is kind of their weakness. We stopped the run, and they had to pass – and you saw the results.”
Tech got on the board with an impressive drive on its first possession. The Hokies went 71 yards in eight plays, and scored when quarterback Logan Thomas completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kalvin Cline on third-and-9 from the Pittsburgh 27. Cody Journell’s extra point gave the Hokies a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Journell added to Tech’s lead on the Hokies’ next possession. Tech drove 29 yards to the Pittsburgh 29, but on third-and-2, tailback Trey Edmunds was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Journell then booted a career-long 48-yard field goal to give Tech a 10-0 lead with 4:29 left in the first quarter. Journell’s previous career long was 42 yards.
Pittsburgh managed to get on the board right before halftime. A 48-yard pass play from quarterback Tom Savage to receiver Devin Street on third-and-10 got the Panthers to the Tech 20. The drive stalled because of back-to-back sacks by Tech’s James Gayle and Dadi Nicolas, but the Panthers got three points on a 47-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt with 14 seconds left in the half to cut the Tech lead to 10-3.
Journell booted two field goals in the third quarter, as Tech’s offense basically moved the ball well between the 20-yard lines, but struggled to put the ball in the end zone. His 37-yard field goal with 9:50 left in the third quarter gave Tech a 13-3 lead and his 42-yarder with 3:36 left in the third pushed the lead to 16-3.
He missed a 33-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter, pulling it wide right. But his final field goal was a 23-yarder with 3:27 left in the game that gave Tech a 19-3 bulge and gave the Hokies a two-possession cushion.
Journell, who had made just three of his six field-goal attempts coming into this game, made four field goals in a game for the first time in his collegiate career.
“Obviously after a rough past couple of games, it felt great,” Journell said. “I just went out there and drilled the opportunities that I had, especially in a game where you really needed them. I think it made a big difference in the game.”
“He just had one bad game [East Carolina, when he missed two field goals and an extra point],” Beamer said. “He’s back. In practice, he’s been very steady. We have a field-goal competition each week, and he’s won it the past couple of times. I feel like he’s back. He yanked that one, but he came back and got the last one, which made it better for us.”
Pittsburgh got its lone touchdown with 2:01 left in the game on a 9-yard run by Savage, but failed to convert on a two-point attempt. The Panthers then tried an onsides kick, but the Hokies recovered and ultimately ran out the clock.
Thomas paced the Hokies offensively, completing 19 of 34 for 239 yards and a touchdown. He also led the Hokies rushing attack, running for 27 yards on 16 carries in a game in which Tech rushed for just 76 yards.
More importantly, Thomas hasn’t turned the ball over in the past three games and gets a week off to heal an ailing foot.
“It’s a nice burden to get off our shoulders,” Thomas said of being bowl eligible. “It’s just a start. This is what we should have been doing last year. Obviously, we’re very happy to where we’re at now this year. We’re moving forward, trying to get to 10 wins and to an ACC championship.”
Savage completed 13 of 28 for 187 yards to lead the Panthers. Street caught five passes for 104 yards.The Hokies enter their bye week, taking next weekend off before resuming action the following Saturday, Oct. 26, against Duke at Lane Stadium. The kickoff time for that game has not been determined.
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