Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies can build on improbable victory

BLACKSBURG -- Even as the smoke from the fireworks began to dissipate, much of the sold-out Lane Stadium crowd did not.

They stood in the aisles or at their seats, some wearing ponchos they never needed. Some cheered. Most just stared. Sighed. Maybe mouthed a little prayer of thanks.

Had they just seen what they thought they saw? Did Virginia Tech actually win this one after giving up the lead with 44 seconds left?

Yes. In a finish that defied logic on both sides, the Hokies rallied for the tying field goal as time expired, then beat Georgia Tech 20-17 on a Cody Journell chip shot in overtime. Everyone saw all that coming, I'm sure.

Can we call this a rivalry now? Pretty please? In no other series does Virginia Tech have to dig this deep so consistently, straddling the line between win and loss, frustration and elation.

The fifth edition of Frank Beamer vs. Paul Johnson ended as three of the previous versions had, but we hadn't seen one like this. A year after a 16-point fourth quarter propelled the Hokies to victory in Atlanta, Virginia Tech overcame squandered field position, a missed field goal and an improbable scoring drive from a Georgia Tech offense that was stonewalled for most of the night.

The Jackets appeared to win the game with their weakest weapon - the passing game - when option quarterback Tevin Washington scrambled out of danger on fourth down and somehow completed a 19-yard throw between three Virginia Tech defenders.

Two plays later, a crossing route turned into a touchdown that gave the Jackets a 17-14 lead with 44 seconds left.

That's when Logan Thomas became Logan Thomas, connecting on two huge passes to put the Hokies in field goal range.

The good news is that the Hokies should get better, because that is what they do. The line jells better, the quarterback spit-shines his accuracy and the running game starts cranking out bigger yardage in November than it does in September.

Running backs Michael Holmes and J.C. Coleman both showed some excellent burst and did a good job with their most important task on Monday - securing the ball. The Hokies put the ball on the ground only once and got that one back, thanks to the alertness of receiver Corey Fuller.

It was Fuller, too, who caught the biggest pass of the game. With the Hokies facing a fourth-and-4 in the waning seconds, he made a catch over the middle and dragged several tacklers for extra yardage that made Journell's game-tying attempt just a little more manageable.

The Giles High graduate hit it with plenty of extra distance, but don't count out the psychological edge of lining up for a 41-yarder instead of, say, a 47-yarder. When the ball split the uprights, the Hokies all but had this one won. You could sense it.

Kyle Fuller's interception in overtime ensured that they did, allowing Virginia Tech to kick a 17-yarder for the win.

A word here about the defense. The only reason those big fourth quarter offensive plays mattered is because of the job that unit did during the bulk of the game. The Hokies set the tone early by holding Georgia Tech to a 1.87 average on their first eight rushing attempts. The dives seemed to go nowhere, as the middle was clogged consistently.

Georgia Tech's first touchdown came courtesy of a short field set up by a special teams gaffe. Coach Frank Beamer - rightfully so - looked exasperated when the snap slipped through the hands of punter A.J. Hughes and rolled away, but you can attribute that one to first-game jitters from a freshman.

Those operations will get better, and so should everything else - gradually, the way they typically do. The difference this time is that Virginia Tech starts with a 1-0 record.

It's a nice place to start building.

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