Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Thomas carries Tech on cold day

BLACKSBURG - We're supposed to say you could see it in his eyes, right? That's the stock line here? Determination. Fortitude. Moxie. Just check the peepers, and you'll see.

Well, I couldn't see Logan Thomas' eyes. He was too far away from the press box.

Maybe his teammates could hear it in his voice? Yeah, that's it. The tone of his voice, the choice of his words in the huddle. Perhaps a killer speech at that perfect time? That would tell you how much Virginia Tech's quarterback wanted this game.

Nope, that's a dead end, too. The players say Thomas uttered next to nothing in the huddle, other than relaying the play call.

There was, however, one thing you could look at and tell what Thomas had on his mind Saturday: his arms.

Yes, bare arms. No sleeves. On a 28-degree day in Blacksburg as the wind was swirling.

Think Thomas had an inkling of what kind of game he'd be in for against Virginia?

Tech's 17-14 victory over the Cavaliers wound up being a microcosm of this season: a grind. A whole lot of ugly with a little bit of pretty sprinkled in. And Thomas was bent on doing whatever was necessary to try to flip the outcome the right way for his Hokies.

"I didn't have a problem putting it on my shoulders," Thomas said. "I've had a couple games with 25-plus carries, so I didn't have a problem doing it."

This time, he had 29 - a career high. Many of them came when the Cavaliers knew they were coming. Yet Thomas kept throwing himself into the fray, leaning forward and getting what he could.

The weather conditions rendered the passing game a gamble, one that wasn't worth taking in a tie game. Result: Thomas morphed into a single-wing quarterback, carrying tacklers and his team down the field when it mattered most.

"You kind of go to something until the well dries up," Thomas said. "It was working for us, and when they took it away, I handed it off to [Martin] Scales and he made a big first down run for us to keep the drive alive. If I have to run the ball, I'll do it."

He had to do it 18 times in the second half, including five carries on Tech's crucial touchdown drive that tied the game at 14-all. Thomas capped it himself with a 4-yard run.

"You can't say enough about Logan," linebacker Jack Tyler said. "He's gotten so much criticism this year - some of it probably undeserved. He keeps grinding, keeps us in games, and he's clutch. That's one of the biggest things about him, when we need him to make a play, he makes one. That's why we love him. That's why he's our quarterback."

It wasn't an aesthetically pleasing performance -- 89 rushing yards on 29 carries won't dent "SportsCenter" - but that's in line with how this season has gone. Huge numbers, Heisman chatter, NFL projections -- all those faded away, replaced by yeoman labor and perseverance.

After one three-and-out, Thomas slammed his helmet on the bench, showing more frustration than he had all year.

But Thomas' mindset didn't change. Keep clawing. Find gains wherever you can.

After Cody Journell kicked the winning field goal, clinching a bowl bid, Thomas found senior linebacker Bruce Taylor on the sideline and said: "That was for you."

"I got kind of teary-eyed," Taylor said. "When we come together as a team, we're decent. We're not bad at all.

"He's the quarterback on the offense and I'm the quarterback of the defense. A lot of the responsibility of the offense and the defense falls on those two guys. Me and Logan have been tight all year. I stay motivating him when the offense has had their tough times and he's done the same for me when we weren't doing so hot. That's what you've got to have. That's the sign of a great teammate, a guy that's always on your side, always has your back and wants the best for you."

They'll get another month together as they prepare for a bowl game. Taylor smiled and said he'd like to go someplace warm.

Thomas? Doubt he'll be packing sleeves either way.

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