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(Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics)
DURHAM, N.C. (HokieSports.com) – Virginia Tech rallied from a 16-7 deficit in the second half to knock off No. 19 Duke 17-16 in an ACC game played Saturday at Wallace-Wade Stadium.
The win continued Tech’s dominance in the Tar Heel state, as the Hokies have won 19 of their 22 games in North Carolina since 2000. More importantly to the Hokies, though, they snapped a three-game losing skid and moved to 5-5 overall on the season, 2-4 in the ACC.
Tech now needs to win just one of its final two games to become bowl eligible for the 22nd straight season, continuing a streak that currently ranks second only to Florida State.
“We stopped talking about that,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “I told the team, ‘Let’s win one game. Let’s put all our efforts on that.’ I think sometimes you can get caught up looking down the road. Down the road isn’t going to help us. We’ve got Wake Forest coming up, and we need to try and get a win down there.“My message is let’s keep getting better, let’s keep playing better … if we do that, then the rest of those things will take care of themselves. The bowls will take care of themselves, and we’ll be happy.
The Hokies’ win could be termed “improbable” in large part because they lost tailback Marshawn Williams to a knee injury early in the game and didn’t scratch 300 yards of offense. But they got some tough running from J.C. Coleman, managed to parlay three Duke turnovers into 17 points, and then turned up the defensive heat on Duke’s final possession to seal up their second road win over a ranked team this season.
Tech was in a precarious spot late in the third quarter. The Hokies trailed 16-7, and Tech quarterback Michael Brewer threw an interception that gave the Blue Devils the ball deep in Tech territory. But the Hokies’ Derek Di Nardo intercepted a pass by Duke’s Anthony Boone and returned it 51 yards to the Duke 9.
The Hokies went three-and-out, losing nine yards in the process. They settled for a 35-yard field goal from freshman kicker Joey Slye on the final play of the third quarter to cut the lead to 16-10.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tech’s C.J. Reavis made arguably the biggest play of the game. He stripped Duke kick returner DeVon Edwards of the ball, and the Hokies’ Dahman McKinnon recovered at the Duke 31.
Tech got to the Duke 5, but a holding penalty pushed the Hokies back to the 15, and they looked to be on the verge of another field-goal attempt. But on second-and-goal, Brewer threw a strike to tight end Bucky Hodges for a 15-yard touchdown play and gave the Hokies a 17-10 lead with 12:47 remaining.
“[Ryan] Malleck was up the middle trying to occupy the safety,” Brewer said. “They were playing a tough coverage. They were playing a coverage trying to bracket Bucky. It’s a tough coverage against spread offenses. We thought if Malleck could occupy the safety and Bucky ran a good route, we could squeeze one in there.
“He ran a great route and made a great play, and it worked in our favor.”
Duke squandered a golden chance late in the game to reclaim the lead. With less than three minutes remaining, the Blue Devils drove inside the Tech 25 and lined up for a 40-yard attempt by kicker Ross Martin. But Martin, who made 14 straight field goals to start the season, hooked it left, giving Tech possession of the ball with 2:26 remaining in the game.
Duke got one last chance. But back-to-back sacks by Tech’s Ken Ekanem and Detrick Bonner left the Blue Devils faced fourth-and-21, and on that play, Bonner forced an errant throw from Boone, setting off a wild celebration on Tech’s sideline.
The Hokies had won for the first time since beating North Carolina on Oct. 4.
Brewer completed 12-of-23 for 138 yards for the Hokies, with two touchdowns and an interception. Hodges caught six passes for 57 yards and a score.
Coleman, filling in for Williams, rushed for 95 yards on 20 carries, easily season highs in both categories. In fact, Coleman, who hadn’t played from scrimmage since fumbling against Pittsburgh, had not rushed for more than 25 carries or carried more than 10 times in a game this season.
“It feels real good,” Coleman said. “It’s like, ‘Yes, finally.’ It’s tough, but I’m a team player. I’m always fighting with the other guys, and whatever my role is, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities. I’m always teaching the other guys and making sure they’re good, making sure they’re OK.”
“I thought that J.C. ran extremely hard,” Beamer said. “He picked up some tough, tough yards. He’s going against some bigger guys in there, but he’s going to give you everything he’s got. He’s got a big heart and gives a lot of effort. He plays for Virginia Tech.”
Tech’s defense held Duke to 326 yards. The Hokies finished with four sacks of Boone, who completed just 18-of-40 for 181 yards, with two interceptions.
The Hokies return to the Tar Heel state next weekend when they travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest next Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m.