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ACC Football: Hokies squeak past Cavaliers, retain Commonwealth Cup

WITH VICTORY, VIRGINIA

TECH REMAINS BOWL-ELIGIBLE

BY NATHAN WARTERS

THE FREE LANCE–STAR

BLACKSBURG—Virginia Tech senior linebacker Bruce Taylor had the Commonwealth Cup gripped tightly in his left hand and vowed to never let it go.

He never lost to Virginia in his four-year playing career and planned to savor the career accomplishment with a night on the town with the silver-plated cup.

“We’re probably going to put a few beverages in it and drink from it. Soak it all in,” Taylor said after the Hokies’ 17–14 win over the Cavaliers at Lane Stadium on Saturday.

Tech has encountered many down moments this season, but it kept two very important streaks alive with a hard-fought victory over U.Va. The Hokies have won nine straight over the Cavaliers, the longest win streak ever in the 94-game series, and evened their record at 6–6 (4–4 ACC) to become eligible for the 20th straight season.

“We have to bring this back Monday, so this will be in my grasp until then,” Taylor said as he tucked the trophy into the crook of his left arm. “See this grip right here. Whoever can pry this kung fu grip from this cup can have it.”

The Cavaliers (4–8, 2–6) came away disappointed after yet another loss to the Hokies, but despite the final result, Virginia head coach Mike London is convinced his program is making progress in the rivalry.

“We came to play and we came to win the game. I know that the streak is what it is and people will continue talking about it, but the gap has been narrowed in recruiting. They won on the field, but the gap is closing,” London said.

Tech won despite a lackluster performance from its offense. It relied on its defense instead.

Hokies junior cornerback Antone Exum intercepted Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco deep in Cavaliers territory to set up Cody Journell’s game-winning 29-yard field goal as time expired.

Exum caused both Virginia turnovers, including a forced fumble and recovery in the first quarter, in arguably his best performance this year. He stepped in front of Rocco’s pass intended for wideout Tim Smith and returned the interception 12 yards to the Virginia 24-yard line with 3:21 remaining in the game.

“He tried to bulldoze me just to try to bully in his route,” Exum said of Smith, who was calling for pass interference after the play. “I just undercut him and the quarterback threw it right to me.”

The Hokies drove to the Cavaliers’ 12-yard line and ran the clock down to four seconds for the game-winning field goal attempt.

London curiously decided to hold his final two timeouts while the Hokies milked the clock. London instead elected to use the timeouts to ice Journell at the end, though the coach didn’t offer much of an explanation for his timeout usage afterward.

“I’d have to go back and look at that again,” London said.

With the exception of a couple of big plays, including Smith’s 42-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, Tech’s defense played one of its most complete games of the season.

The Hokies yielded a season-low 217 yards, which was a season-low for Virginia’s offense, and allowed only seven first downs. Virginia managed only 68 yards and three first downs after halftime.

Tech ran 95 plays to Virginia’s 56 and held the ball for 37:30. Still, the Hokies struggled at getting the ball into the end zone.

“We weren’t moving the ball the way we wanted to,” Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said. “Everybody was frustrated, not just me.”

The wind gusts played games with both teams’ passes. Thomas completed only 18 of 38 passes for 129 yards, but he took to the ground more often than usual with 89 yards on a career-high 29 carries.

Thomas made a few big plays, including a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Randall Dunn in the third quarter and a 4-yard scoring run with 1:25 left in the third.

“We didn’t really go into today with the idea that [Thomas] was going to run that much, but it just kind of worked out that way,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.

The Cavaliers went up 14–7 early in the third quarter on a big defensive play. Linemen Jake Snyder and Eli Harold tag-teamed on a sack of Thomas and caused a fumble in the process. Defensive tackle Brent Urban picked up the loose ball and ran it back 16 yards for a touchdown.

Virginia drove to Virginia Tech’s 21-yard line on its next drive, but instead of attempting a 38-yard field goal, the Cavaliers called a fake and holder Jacob Hodges tried to run for the first down. He was short by two yards, and Virginia Tech took over.

“Not that it was out of the range, but it was close. And if you noticed the wind there a little bit, [it was] kind of a swirling wind there,” London said.

The Hokies ran off 85 yards on 15 plays on their ensuing drive and tied the game 14–14 on Thomas’ rushing touchdown near the end of the third quarter.

“I didn’t have a problem putting it on my shoulders,” Thomas said. “We did a great job up front all day.”

Tech’s players said they plan to spend the rest of the weekend celebrating with the Commonwealth Cup and are eagerly waiting to learn their bowl destination.

“I would like to go somewhere warm, preferably somewhere with a beach,” Taylor said. “Hawaii is nice. Orlando is nice. Just somewhere warm.”

Virginia 0 7 7 0 — 14

Virginia Tech 0 7 7 3 — 17

Second Quarter

VT—Dunn 7 pass from Thomas (Journell kick), 10:30.

UVa—Ti.Smith 42 pass from Rocco (Jarrett kick), 3:30.

Third Quarter

UVa—Urban 16 fumble return (Jarrett kick), 10:55.

VT—Thomas 4 run (Journell kick), 1:25.

Fourth Quarter

VT—FG Journell 29, :00.

A—65,632.

UVa VT

First downs 7 23

Rushes-yards 20-30 57-174

Passing 187 129

Comp-Att-Int 17-36-1 18-38-0

Return Yards 26 12

Punts-Avg. 9-38.7 9-39.1

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1

Penalties-Yards 4-23 1-5

Time of Possession 22:30 37:30

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Virginia, Parks 8-21, P.Jones 7-18, Hodges 1-6, Richardson 2-1, Rocco 2-(minus 16). Virginia Tech, Thomas 29-89, Scales 10-37, Coleman 13-36, Gouveia-Winslow 1-8, Knowles 2-3, Gregory 2-1.

PASSING—Virginia, Rocco 14-29-1-177, P.Sims 3-7-0-10. Virginia Tech, Thomas 18-38-0-129.

RECEIVING—Virginia, Ti. Smith 4-79, Terrell 3-27, Jennings 3-23, P. Jones 3-18, Richardson 1-20, Freedman 1-8, McGee 1-8, Parks 1-4. Virginia Tech, M.Davis 4-33, Knowles 4-33, C. Fuller 3-26, Roberts 3-17, Scales 2-8, Dunn 1-7, Malleck 1-5.

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442

nwarters@freelancestar.com

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