Virginia Tech rallied past Duke 41-20 Saturday afternoon after a disastrous first quarter that saw the Hokies fall behind 20-0. Virginia Tech answered by scoring the next 41 points to complete the biggest comeback ever under coach Frank Beamer.
"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' poise, I appreciate our coaches' poise."
The Hokies got huge performances by junior quarterback Logan Thomas, freshman running back J.C. Coleman, and senior wide receiver Marcus Davis offensively as they racked up the most yards in a game since they rolled up 605 on Wake Forest two seasons ago. Thomas finished 14 of 23 for 256 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He added 50 yards on the ground on eight carries, a performance that Beamer thought really opened things up for the Hokies.
"He had some big carries and some critical yards," Beamer said. "I thought he, for the most part, threw the ball great. Those deep balls were right there. I thought he was tremendous."
Most of the yards came by way of receptions by Davis, who finished with five catches and 144 yards. His day ended prematurely after hurting his shoulder on his second touchdown catch in the third quarter.
Coleman had his breakout day as he rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.
"Coach made me the starter this week and I just wanted to make sure that whenever they called my number I was able to make plays," Coleman said.
The offense as a whole was full of big plays, as they had eight plays that went for more than 15 yards on the day, four of which were for touchdowns.
"We just needed something; I thought J.C. was that guy today," Beamer said.
Virginia Tech's defense got back to its roots in the second half after that rough start, flying to the football and really making life difficult for what had been a hot Duke defense. The Hokies finished with five sacks, led by Luther Maddy with two. Junior defensive end James Gayle had a huge day as well as he led the team in stops with nine.
"We just played harder," defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins said. "We ran to the ball and just played with more emotion and more passion."
The Blue Devils got the scoring underway on the fifth play of the game when quarterback Sean Renfree connected with wide receiver Jamison Crowder for a 62-yard touchdown reception. Junior cornerback Kyle Fuller was in coverage for the Hokies and fell down shortly after Crowder caught the ball, leading to an easy run after the catch.
Duke kicker Ross Martin kicked field goals on the next two Duke possessions to move the score to 13-0 with four minutes left in the first. Virginia Tech had just 10 yards of offense entering the next drive, which ended quickly when Jordan Byas picked off a bobbled swing pass to junior running back Tony Gregory and raced into the end zone to make it 20-0. Needless to say, the Virginia Tech crowd was stunned.
Tech maintained their composure in part because of a team meeting led by Thomas on Thursday, according to Beamer.
"Logan got up and spoke a little bit and one of the things he said is if things don't go right just hang in there and keep playing."
Virginia Tech scored its first touchdown of the first half after a solid drive on the ensuing possession. Thomas hit Davis for a 40-yard completion to move the ball down to the Duke four. Senior running back Martin Scales ran it in one the next play to make it 20-7.
"We knew what we had to do," Davis said. "Before that drive, basically everything went wrong my number was called at that time, so I just felt I had to go make a play."
A Cody Journell field goal with 2:15 left in the second quarter made it 20-10 before a huge momentum swing to end the first half. He added another field goal later and has connected on 19 of his last 20 field goal attempts. "You got to take it kick-by-kick It's the same steps every time," he said.
Renfree, who had been injured on a hit earlier the game, reentered and began moving the ball down the field in the final few minutes.
With 25 seconds left and Duke on the Virginia Tech 29, Renfree's pass deflected off of star wideout Conner Vernon and into the hands of Detrick Bonner. The sophomore safety returned it 39 yards to the Duke 42=yard line.
On the very next play, Thomas found Davis streaking up the sideline for a 42-yard touchdown to make it 20-17 heading into halftime.
That sequence proved to be the turning point of the game, as the Hokies never lost control of the affair following that point.
It didn't take long for the Hokies to keep the momentum going in the second half. After a 30-yard completion to sophomore tight end Ryan Malleck on third and eight, Coleman took a handoff left, got a terrific block from fullback Joey Phillips, and raced 45 yards into the end zone to give the Hokies their first lead of the day at 24-20.
"It felt real good," Coleman said. "It kind of took me back to my high school days when I had a lot of long runs It felt good to finally be able to break though and finally be able to have a big game."
The Hokies would strike on another big play during their next drive, as Thomas hit Davis in the end zone for another touchdown to make it 31-20. CJournell would tack on a field goal with 1:50 left in the third to make it 34-20 Hokies after three quarters.
Virginia Tech's defense came alive in the third quarter and didn't allow a first down by the Blue Devils the entire frame. Offensively, the Hokies had the ball for 10:05 in what was the decisive quarter.
Coleman pushed over the century mark in the fourth quarter with an 86-yard sprint to the end zone to make it 41-20 and really put the game out of reach.
With less than five minutes to go in the fourth, DE Dadi Nicolas stripped Renfree of the ball allowing Maddy to fall on the ball for the fumble recovery.