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Hokies come up short in attempting to make history for second straight week
BLACKSBURG (HokieSports.com) – For a second straight week, Virginia Tech had the opportunity to make history.
Last Saturday, the Hokies beat Ohio State on the road, and the Buckeyes, then ranked No. 8, marked the highest-ranked team that Tech has beaten on the road.
On Saturday, the Hokies fell behind 21-0 to East Carolina, and moving to 3-0 on the season would have required making the biggest comeback in head coach Frank Beamer’s tenure.
It appeared they had that shot after tying the game at 21 with just 1:20 left in the game, but two penalties on the Pirates’ ensuing possession – one because the kickoff went out of bounds – helped East Carolina to its game-winning touchdown and handed the Hokies their first loss of the year.
“I am more convinced than ever that we can really be a good football team,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “I do give East Carolina a lot of credit, but I give our guys credit as well. There wasn’t one point where I thought we panicked. We hung in there and gave ourselves a chance to win.
“Last week, I thought the potential was good, and this week, I think the potential is good. We did start out slow, but we got better as the day went on, and we still have a lot of improving we can do.”
East Carolina’s last drive produced the same exact result as three of their four possessions in the first quarter – a touchdown. To look up at the scoreboard and see a Tech football team trailing 21-0 in the opening stanza has not happened too often.
The last time was September 30, 2006, when a kid named Calvin Johnson scored twice on touchdown receptions and helped Georgia Tech stake a 21-point lead. The Hokies would score a touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first quarter of that game – meaning today’s game marked the first time under Beamer that they have trailed by 21 at the end of the first quarter.
“They just made good plays,” Tech free safety Detrick Bonner said. “That’s a good quarterback and they’ve got good athletes at receiver, and they were just going up there and making good catches.”
ECU quarterback Shane Carden’s numbers in the first quarter alone were 11 for 19 for 174 yards and three touchdowns, which included a 47-yard completion to Cam Worthy, who ended the day with 224 yards on six catches.
“As good as we were last week playing the deep ball, we were equally as bad this week,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “We had a good plan, we just couldn’t make a play on a deep ball all day. They had a freakish play on their first drive that got things going and then they made a couple big plays, but from that point until their last drive, we played our tail off.”
Over the next 43 game minutes, Tech’s defense smothered the Pirates’ offense. Sure, they still gained almost 300 yards in that time frame, but 68 came on a meaningless drive that ended the half (43 on the final play on a ‘Hail Mary’ that was caught at the Tech 7 and immediately stopped) and 65 on the final drive.
East Carolina’s five second-half possessions before the game winner consisted of five plays for 18 yards, three for minus-15, eight for 55, three for 1 and three for minus-2, while earning just four first downs.
ECU ran the ball 11 times in the second half for minus-1 yard, and the Pirates were held to 1-for-10 on third-down conversions in the last three stanzas after converting four of their first five.
“We really didn’t make that many adjustments,” Foster said. “We checked out of a couple of things, but we really didn’t change anything. We put pressure on the quarterback, and we were able to get guys into position to make plays. I thought our tackling in space wasn’t very good, and obviously, we didn’t play the deep ball very well.”
What the Pirates also did well was not commit any costly turnovers. Carden was sacked three times after the first quarter, but did not throw an interception. The team’s only turnover was a Carden fumble in the second quarter that cost the Pirates a chance at going up 28-0.
That was the second of three key stops for the Hokies’ defense in the second quarter. It started with them stopping the Pirates on a fourth-and-2 from the Tech 11. After a Tech interception came the fumble on the very next play, and after another interception, the defense held the Pirates, who saw a 37-yard field-goal attempt sail wide right to keep the deficit at 21 points.
“It was a slight shock [to be down by 21 after the first quarter], but all of those mistakes we made, we corrected,” Tech defensive end Ken Ekanem said. “We just then started to play better and we applied more pressure and tried to make the quarterback throw on the run.
“ECU is a really underrated team with good wide receivers and a good quarterback. We expected them to play well. We just had a few mental mistakes here and there.”
The largest deficit ever overcome to win a game by a Tech team under Beamer is 20 points – back in 2012 versus Duke – and history would have been made if the Hokies could have come up with just one last stop and pulled it out in overtime.
Now, they must turn their attention to their ACC opener versus Georgia Tech, whom they will welcome to Lane Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff is at noon.