MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — For a battle of backup quarterbacks, the latest chapter of Virginia Tech’s rivalry with Miami was a pretty good one.
The Hokies squandering a huge early lead, but survived a wild finish and won their first ACC game of 2019, 42-35 over the heavily favored Hurricanes.
“We have two teams that have a great tradition against each other, a great rivalry,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “We didn’t win pretty, and that’s not what it’s all about. It’s just about winning. … And we didn’t want them to try to win. We wanted them to come here to win. That was kind of our message all week. If you didn’t believe, don’t even get on the bus.”
The Hokies had to keep believing right down to the final gun — twice — as Miami had two shots in the final 5 seconds at a potential tying or winning touchdown from the Tech 10-yard line. The Hurricanes’ second try came after the referees had initially said time had run out after their first unsuccessful attempt.
ESPN, which carried the game, had already jumped to its next game already in progress (Georgia-Tennessee), when the ruling was reversed, and attempt No. 2 came.
How it all came to that final attempt was just as bizarre.
Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-1) jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first half, with the defense forcing five turnovers (four interceptions and one fumble recovery) and quarterback Hendon Hooker providing an initial spark for the offense.
That initial shine wore off as Miami’s vaunted run defense lived up to its reputation. The Hokeis struggled on both offense and defense, as the Hurricanes stormed back to tie the game at 35-35, including 21 straight points in the span of seven minutes of the fourth quarter.
Miami running back DeeJay Dallas tied the game with a 62-yard touchdown run. Dallas looked like he was wrapped up in the backfield, but instead escaped three Hokies defenders for the score.
The Hurricanes were then in position to take the lead on the conversion try after Dallas’ touchdown — they successfully converted a 2-point conversion to make it 35-29 on the previous score — but placekicker Bubba Baxa hit the right upright and missed.
For Foster, who is retiring at the end of the season, the final minutes made it one that he’ll “remember for a long time.”
While Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry — who finished the game 28 of 47 for 422 yards with four touchdowns and an interception — orchestrated the ’Canes’ comeback, it was Hooker who came through with the game-winning drive.
The redshirt-sophomore out of Greensboro who nearly transferred out of the program during the offseason led a last minute 63-yard scoring drive with long completions to Damon Hazelton and Dalton Keene. Running back Deshawn McClease punched it in from the 3-yard line to give Tech a 42-35 lead with 1:03 to play.
“I really was just staying on an even keel, staying encouraging, encouraging my teammates, telling them, ‘The game’s not over. We’ve got to keep pushing. We’ve got to make progress, push the ball down the field and score.’ I’m prepared for anything,” said Hooker, who completed 10 of 20 pass attempts for 184 yards and three touchdowns. He ran the ball 16 times for 76 yards and one score.
And Tech’s much maligned defense came up with not one but two stops from Miami’s 10-yard line with five seconds to go.
Perry threw an incomplete pass in the end zone intended for tight end Brevin Jordan on the first play. The clock hit zero, but officials reviewed it and put one second back on the clock. Linebacker Alan Tisdale knocked down Perry’s final attempt.
“I just seen the fight that everybody on the sideline went through tonight,” Tech defensive back Caleb Farley said. “It was just too much of a team effort and a strain to let it come down to one play and not give it your all. It was easy to regroup for your brothers and try to get the job done.”
Nearly all Tech’s offense in the second half before its final drive came on a 67-yard pass to James Mitchell early in the fourth quarter. The Hokies didn’t have a first down or completion in the half until Mitchell just outran Miami’s defense down the sidelines for the big gain. He was brought down at the 2-yard line, but Hooker hit Dalton Keene for the score on the next play with 12:43 to go in the game.
It was Keene’s third touchdown of the night.
Miami’s offense came alive in the second half after stumbling badly out of the gate. The Hurricanes turned the ball over on its first four possessions. It was the first time Tech forced four turnovers in a quarter since they did it against Miami in 1998. The Hokies also did it in the third quarter of the 1995 Sugar Bowl against Texas.
Quarterback Jarren Williams hadn’t thrown an interception all season coming into the game, but that streak ended after three plays on Saturday when safety Chamarri Conner tipped a pass to Jermaine Waller for an interception at midfield.
Hooker made quick work of the short field carrying the ball three times for 31 yards and hitting Tayvion Robinson for a 7-yard swing pass. On a third-and-6, Hooker went 12-yards for the score to make it 7-0 with 9:48 left in the first quarter.
Hooker made a quick decision to pull the ball down and run with the right side of the field completely clear of Miami defenders. It was only the second time this season Tech scored a touchdown on its opening drive.
Tech defensive back Caleb Farley picked off a pass in the end zone on Miami’s next drive, which ended Williams’ day. He was benched in favor of backup N’Kosi Perry, but the turnovers didn’t stop.
Farley and Waller each had another interception before the end of the half and Divine Deablo and Reggie Floyd forced a fumble. Waller’s second interception gave Virginia Tech the ball at the Hurricanes’ 23-yard line. Jarrod Hewitt got an interception by Khalil Ladler called back with a roughing the passer penalty in the third quarter.
Miami was shut out in the first half until a desperation Hail Mary with no time left on the clock. Perry’s pass was tipped around before landing in the hands of Mark Pope for the 38-yard touchdown.
The Hurricanes only other real scoring chance in the half came after Perry hit tight end Brevin Jordan for a 54-yard gain. The Hurricanes had a fresh set of downs at Tech’s 4-yard line, but failed to come away with any points.
After Reggie Floyd broke up a pair of passes in the end zone intended for Jordan, Farley picked off a fourth-down attempt from Perry intended for Dee Wiggins. Farley read the roll-out pass and jumped the route for his second interception of the game.
Tech was much more conservative on offense, building its game plan around Hooker’s athleticism, and it paid off. Miami had a hard time containing the elusive quarterback when things broke down in the pocket. His 15-yard scramble at the end of the first quarter set up a 1-yard touchdown run from James Mitchell that put Tech up 21-0.
Hooker also completed a pair of touchdown passes in the first half — both short throws to Keene, who weaved his way to the end zone. Keene’s second touchdown capped off a 12-play, 80-yard drive.