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(Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics)
BLACKSBURG (HokieSports.com) – Marshawn Williams rushed for 119 yards and Virginia Tech’s offense ran for a season-high 308 yards, as the Hokies knocked off Western Michigan 35-17 in a Homecoming game at Lane Stadium on Saturday.
The win marked the first for the Hokies (3-2) since their upset victory over then-No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. Tech wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule and now gears up for seven straight ACC games to end the regular season.
“I still think we’re a work in progress,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “I said at the start of this thing that we were going to go through some bumps, and I think that’s the type of team we’ve got. Someone told me every score we had today was by a freshman. There’s some talented kids there, but there’s a learning curve for everybody.”
Michael Brewer threw two touchdown passes for the Hokies, but the story of this game was twofold – Tech’s running attack and the Hokies’ quick start following Western Michigan’s special teams miscues.
The Hokies jumped out of the blocks early, scoring 8 seconds into the game when backup linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka returned a fumble by Western Michigan’s Donald Celiscar on the opening kickoff 11 yards for a touchdown.
That marked the fastest that a team has scored under Beamer.
In addition to Celiscar’s fumble on the opening kickoff, Western Michigan snapper Wyatt Pfeifer sent the ball over the head of punter J. Schroeder on the Broncos’ ensuing drive. The ball went out of the end zone for a Virginia Tech safety, giving the Hokies an 8-0 lead with 13:26 left in the first quarter.
“It’s nice to get points anyway you can,” Tech receiver Willie Byrn said. “It’s also nice to see our special teams get a touchdown. Tech has hung its hat on special teams for so long. It might be a ‘gimme,’ but to get that safety was nice, too. Anything that gives you a comfort zone as an offense, knowing that you can run and pass with a lead early, that’s nice.”
Tech took control of the game with two third-quarter touchdowns. Leading 18-10, the Hokies went 80 yards in 11 plays, and took a 25-10 lead on Brewer’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Ford with 5:52 left in the quarter.
On their next possession, the Hokies went 68 yards in nine plays and scored on a 4-yard run by tailback Shai McKenzie with 9 seconds left in the quarter, for a 32-10 lead.
Tech, which entered averaging just 141.2 yards rushing per game, rushed for 227 yards in the second half alone. The Hokies finished with their most yards rushing since gaining 317 against NC State in 2010. In addition to Williams’ 119 yards, McKenzie added 87 yards and the touchdown.
“We ran the ball more,” Williams said of the second-half rushing performance. “Things started to open more, and we started to get into a groove. That was big. We just made more plays.”
“I hope when we look at it, it was us wearing them down a little bit,” Beamer said. “We’ll go back and look at it, but I’m glad to see it. I’m glad to see some cracks there and guys running down the field.”
The Broncos’ lone score in the second half came on a 1-yard run by Jarvion Franklin with 9:06 left in the game. The Hokies amassed 310 yards of their 486 yards of offense in the second half and held the ball for nearly 20 of the game’s final 30 minutes.
Brewer completed 14 of 32 passes for 178 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions for Tech.
“I think today was a step in the right direction,” Brewer said. “No. 1, we got the win. That’s the most important thing, just getting that bad taste out of our mouths from the last two weeks.
“And then No. 2, we had a bunch of freshmen make plays. Those guys are growing up. They’re not treated as freshmen any more. We’ve got a bunch of new faces, but we can’t use that as an excuse any more. We’ve got to continue to get better each day in practice and translate it to Saturdays.”
Western Michigan (2-2) was held to 231 yards of offense and only 19 yards rushing. Zach Terrell completed 18 of 32 passes for 212 yards, with an interception.
The Hokies being their seven-game conference run to end the season next Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, against the Tar Heels. Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m.