November 16, 2013
Big plays by Knowles and Byrn not quite enough to lift Hokies past Maryland
By Marc Mullen

BLACKSBURG – Thanks to a couple of big-time plays by wide receivers Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn, the Virginia Tech football team was able to erase a 14-point, second-half deficit and force overtime. However, Maryland escaped with a 27-24 victory on Saturday when Terrapins’ quarterback C.J. Brown rushed for the game-winning touchdown.

It was more than 28 game minutes earlier when Brown connected with Nigel King on a 16-yard pass to put the Terps up 21-7 at the 12:58 mark of the third quarter. Knowles may have sensed a deflated Lane Stadium and took matters into his own hands – or legs.

Knowles caught the ensuing kickoff in the Tech end zone, brought it out, found a seem and raced up the right sideline for an 88-yard return, as Maryland’s Sean Davis caught him and saved a touchdown. It was Knowles’ longest return since last year (93 yards at North Carolina), and he had 126 total return yards in the game.

“When (Maryland) went up, I’m like ‘OK, they just scored. I’m going to have an opportunity to do something here,’” Knowles said. “For some reason, I felt this peace, from God or something, that I’m about to score, and this is about to be nice.

“That’s what I love about kickoff return. The coaches asked me if I want to do that [before the season], and I said, ‘Of course, I’m doing it.’ You have that chance to make a spark and make amazing plays. I thought it did make a spark.

“But, as I was running, I saw he (Davis) had an angle, but I didn’t think anyone could catch me. If it was a normal guy, no way, but he’s pretty fast.”

Two plays later, Tech faced a critical third-and-12 and appeared to be wasting Knowles’ good return. But quarterback Logan Thomas found Byrn on a crossing pattern a bit short of the first-down marker. Byrn turned up field and came a yard short of scoring. He converted the first down, and two plays later, the Hokies pulled to within 7.

“Demitri’s play definitely sparked us up, and it gave us good field position and was a catalyst for making the comeback,” Byrn said.

“I just ran a little shallow across the field, and I’m more of a check down for Logan if the primary (target) isn’t open. But there was a guy trailing me, and I caught it kind of back hip and I’m just glad I was able to control it and get us down there. I would have liked to score, but D.J. (Coles) finished it off.”

Much will be made of the Hokies’ inability to convert on third downs, as they were just 4 of 16. However, it was third-down conversions that helped the Hokies knot the score at 21 with 9:32 left in the fourth quarter.

Facing third-and-24 from the Tech 36, Knowles again came up with a big play. He found an opening on the right hash, caught the ball in stride and raced across the field for a 38-yard reception. He had two catches for 43 yards on the afternoon.

“It was a dig route, 16 yards, about that,” Knowles said of the play. “At this point, I really hadn’t gotten the ball yet. So I said to myself, ‘Demitri, it’s time for me to make a big play.’ So I just found an opening for a catch and run and that was fun.”

Again, it was Byrn called upon on for a third-down play in the red zone as Tech had the ball on the Terps’ 5. Facing third-and-1, Byrn caught the ball in the back of the end zone to pull the Hokies to within one, and kicker Eric Kristensen added the extra point to tie the game.

“I was confident, and I think everyone in our locker room was confident we were going to win the game,” Byrn said. “We had a great defense, and we started clicking on offense, but we wanted to score a touchdown – and that’s what you always want to do, especially in overtime.

“But we still had confidence in our ‘D,’ but stuff happens, and Maryland took advantage of what they saw.”

If the Hokies could have hung on for the victory in overtime – Kristensen gave them a three-point lead with a field goal on their first possession – it would have marked a tie for the second-largest, second-half comeback in the Beamer era (North Carolina, 2008).

They couldn’t and the two men’s performances to help send off the 13 Hokies playing in their final home game on Worsham Field with a victory will probably be forgotten because it didn’t result in a win.

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