Mikell Simpson rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown.
At times this season, Al Groh has used a boxing analogy to describe his football team. Go to the middle of the ring and slug it out has been the refrain. Well on Saturday in Scott Stadium, Virginia Tech landed more punches, threw more staggering knockout blows, and outpointed the Cavaliers 33-21 to capture the Coastal Division title.
The win advances VT to the ACC Championship game next week where it will meet Boston College. UVa, meanwhile, will wait to find out its bowl fate as this team tries to win 10 games for just the second time in program history.
“We knew we were going to get Virginia’s best shot. It was a team win,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “We did some things on special teams. We did some things on defense. We did some things on offense. The end result was a great team win.”
“We didn’t have quite what we needed in every respect today. In the games that we won, we got contributions from all areas; it’s been a collaborative effort [from the] coaching staff, offense, defense, and special teams,” Cav coach Al Groh said. “It was the same way today, but we just didn’t get quite enough in any of those areas. Virginia Tech had a little bit more at certain times than we did, and that’s really what made the difference.”
In particular, VT got “a little bit more” on two key sequences at critical moments of both halves. The first gave the Hokies a lead they never relinquished and the second proved to be a final haymaker to the Cavaliers’ collective chin.
Of the two, the first may have been the most damaging. UVa had rallied for a 14-13 lead in the second quarter with momentum slowly building in its favor after the hosts had trailed 10-0 in the early going. The crowd was rocking and visitors were pinned at their own 10-yard line with 2:07 remaining before halftime. The defense forced a 3-and-out, leaving VT to punt from its own 11-yard line.
That’s when a damaging sequence of events unfolded. UVa opted not to use a timeout and let the clock roll during the Hokies’ possession. That gave the Hoos the ball with 53 seconds to go before halftime at their own 43-yard line. That seemed to be plenty of time for a team with two timeouts that has been successful with the two-minute drill this season. On the first play of the drive, Cav quarterback Jameel Sewell fired a pass to Staton Jobe for 16 yards to the VT 41 – the team was already knocking on the door of field goal position.
Disaster followed on the next play, though. Still sitting on two timeouts, Virginia remained in hurry-up mode and Sewell tried to connect with Maurice Covington at the VT 35-yard line. Virginia Tech corner Brandon Flowers had other ideas – he jumped the route and made the 10th interception of his career, a take-away that doubled as Tech’s 19th INT of the season.
“It was a great play by [Flowers], but I’ve just got to try to make sure I make a little bit more accurate pass and I think we would have had a completion there,” Sewell said. “He’s a good DB and it was an exceptional play honestly.”
Merely 28 seconds later, Hokie quarterback Sean Glennon connected on a deep pass to Eddie Royal for a 39-yard touchdown pass. Virginia Tech took that 20-14 lead into the locker room and never trailed again.
“It looked like the guy sat on him pretty good. We probably could have come back for the ball a little bit more aggressively and created a little bit more space,” Groh said. “We still had our chances there [defensively] but we gave up the two long balls, particularly the last one where we didn’t do a very good job with the coverage. Obviously, those seven points were pretty dramatic.”
Chris Long ‘s forced fumble led to a UVa touchdown that cut the lead to 23-21.
The other costly sequence helped Virginia Tech put away the Cavaliers. With the scoreboard reflecting a tightly contested 23-21 game, Virginia again seemed to have the proverbial momentum in its corner. UVa’s Chris Long had created a turnover moments earlier with a sack and forced fumble, which led to a Sewell touchdown run and cut the lead to two. The stadium was again noisy and the defense had again forced a 3-and-out for the Hokies’ offense.
Taking over with 1:02 left in the third quarter, Virginia picked up nine yards on first and second down to set up a crucial 3rd-and-1 play at the UVa 35-yard line. With Mikell Simpson sitting out with cramps, the Hoos turned to Andrew Pearman , who had picked up four yards on a second down run. The play was a power set with a tight end in motion to the left where the play would follow; similar play calls and formations had worked earlier in the game.
VT stuffed the play, Virginia punted, and the Hokies proceeded to execute a drive to put the game away. 8 plays. 68 yards. 3 minutes. The back-breaking straw? A Tyrod Taylor scramble to the left side where he beat Jermaine Dias to the pylon for a 5-yard touchdown that produced a 30-21 lead.
“At 23-21, we had the third down play there where Tyrod runs it in and we know what the play is going to be and on top of that, there was a timeout for us to have the opportunity to discuss it – ‘Fellas, this is what the play is going to be,'” said Groh, referencing a VT timeout before the play. “But he goes in anyway. Shortly thereafter, I think on the next series, Peter [Lalich] throws for the first down so we’re getting a chance to answer and at that particular time, we get called for a penalty.”
While those two game-changing sequences played a role in the outcome, the difference in the game likely was the passing category. Virginia Tech racked up 299 yards passing, including the Royal touchdown late in the half. Glennon keyed the attack by completing 13 of 19 passes for 260 yards and the TD. Royal finished with a career-high 147 yards on six receptions, while Josh Morgan and Josh Hyman each grabbed four catches for 75 and 63 yards, respectively.
UVa, meanwhile, had just 144 yards passing on the day. Sewell completed 15 of 24 attempts for 121 yards with the key interception in the second quarter. The Hoos’ leading receivers were Tom Santi and Jonathan Stupar , who each had three catches; Santi posted 41 yards, while Stupar had 40. Simpson had six catches for just 17 yards.
“With a lot of good players out there, we thought going in to the game the most outstanding group on their offensive team were the wide receivers. They have been for four years. It’s a tremendous group,” Groh said. “They’ve got a lot of playmakers in the group and probably, no matter who they were playing, it would make sense to try to get those guys in to the game early.”
Of course, Virginia’s struggles at wide receiver have been well documented and a guy with the skills of Royal would help the situation. In a thought that has epitomized this rivalry in recent years, however, Royal summed up just how frustrating this one-sided showdown has become for Hoo fans.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that I almost came here and that made the right decision going to Tech,” Royal said. “It’s a great feeling going out 4-0 against them.”
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