Friday, November 18, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Lucky breaks lead Hokies to victory

BLACKSBURG - Before we get into Virginia Tech's 24-21 win over North Carolina on Thursday, can we determine something?

What, exactly, constitutes an "uncatchable" pass?

You'd think one that sails about 10 feet over the receiver's head would apply. That's even the signal officials use to make that call: the goofy karate chop above their hats.

UNC's coaches and players were making that motion early in the third quarter. They had every right to. The game was still very much unsettled, there were flags on the ground, and the Tar Heels couldn't believe it.

Sure, there had been contact against Tech receiver Jarrett Boykin on the third-and-13 play, but Logan Thomas' pass had been nowhere close. Uncatchable.

But then referee Ron Cherry turned on the mike and made the call: pass interference. First down, Hokies.

That tells you quite a bit about what happened here on Thursday night. It seemed every call that could turn the game went Tech's way. An apparent Tech fumble was ruled down by contact, reviewed, and still ruled down by contact. A big-gainer completion by UNC was negated by an offensive pass interference call that could have been ignored.

Uncatchable balls were ruled catchable.

Bottom line: Tech was lucky to escape this one. The Tar Heels have to be waking up this morning wondering, "How on earth did we lose?"

They lost because that's the kind of season UNC is having, the kind where a lot of NFL talent manages to have a 6-5 record and a 2-5 mark in the ACC.

Tech, meanwhile, has lived a charmed existence the past two Thursday nights. Last week, the game turned on a personal foul penalty on a Georgia Tech defender. This week, the Hokies had the officials and the bounces on their side.

Jayron Hosley muffed a punt - and saw it hop right into the hands of teammate Tony Gregory. David Wilson fumbled again - a clear one this time - and saw it recovered by the Hokies.

The Tar Heels weren't as fortunate. They lost a fumble on a first-and-goal from the Tech 5 and missed two field goals that wound up being the difference.

Tech did have a few highlights. The Hokies dialed up a great play for Thomas, much as they did against Miami, that he ran up the middle for a 23-yard touchdown. D.J. Coles made a brilliant catch in the corner of the end zone on a throw only he could get to.

Thomas engineered a 95-yard touchdown drive that tied the game at 7-7 that got the crowd back into the game after Tech's disastrous start. Boykin had an outstanding Lane Stadium finale, catching 10 passes for 106 yards.

In a few weeks, everyone will have forgotten how the Hokies got their 10th win. All that will matter is that they did. It's a win that puts a heavy burden on Virginia, which will need a victory Saturday at Florida State to make next week's commonwealth clash a winner-take-all affair in the Coastal Division.

But it's also a win that doesn't inspire a ton of confidence in the likely event the Hokies play in the ACC title game. Is Clemson going to outgain Tech and still lose, as UNC did? Is Clemson going to throw a ridiculous punch at Thomas' helmet, as Georgia Tech did?

Despite all the breaks, Tech still almost gave it away. The Tar Heels cut a 17-point deficit to three with 2:32 left and lined up for an onside kick.

They recovered it, too - about two yards shy of the required 10 yards.

Tech ball. Tech win. But one where neither team could be too pleased with how it happened.

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