BLACKSBURG, Va. — While Maryland Coach Randy Edsall and his players streamed onto the Lane Stadium turf, in delirium over quarterback C.J. Brown’s game-winning overtime touchdown, Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle was decidedly less enthused.
Lined up across the formation, he could do little to prevent Brown’s leap toward the pylon and simply unhooked his chin strip and trudged back down the Hokies sideline Saturday. As he did so, though, Gayle glanced toward midfield and witnessed a senior day celebration he never saw coming.
“Honestly, it really made me mad because it’s a game we kind of let go,” Gayle said after the Hokies’ 27-24 loss to Maryland. “Their defense outplayed our defense at the end of the day. . . . It’s definitely hard to swallow.”
This was a common refrain once Virginia Tech began to come to grips with its first senior day loss since 2003, a defeat that could allow a golden opportunity to win the ACC’s Coastal Division slip through its grasp. A week after their most impressive showing to date in a resounding 42-24 win at Miami, the Hokies (7-4, 4-3) regressed in all phases of the game Saturday against an injury-riddled team they were favored to beat by more than two touchdowns.
The most shocking development, though, was that their vaunted defense couldn’t seem to corral Brown, who “was running all over the field on us,” Gayle said. Coach Frank Beamer even questioned his team’s readiness for Saturday’s game based on the bevy of missed tackles that ultimately sprang Brown for many of his long runs.
He accounted for 257 of Maryland’s 319 yards, including 122 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. It’s the second-most yards one player has gained on the ground against the Hokies this season, and comes just one week after Brown had three turnovers and five rushing yards in a loss to Syracuse.
Virginia Tech players noted Brown didn’t even look to throw the ball for most of the game.
“We just didn’t tackle very well. That’ll get you beat in just about any game,” senior linebacker Jack Tyler said. “Obviously, it was pretty awful to watch. We worked our butts off all week to get this win. We needed it. We just didn’t do enough to get it.”
The offense, though, was far from immune. A week after piling up a season-high 549 yards at Miami, the Hokies mustered just 264 yards Saturday. They gained 111 yards on their first three drives, but averaged just 2.9 yards per play after that and went 4 of 16 on third down conversions for the game.
Still, the Hokies had two chances to win the game in regulation after Logan Thomas hit wide receiver Willie Byrn for a five-yard touchdown catch that erased a 21-7 deficit with more than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But Virginia Tech couldn’t even pick up a first down on those two drives.
“It definitely felt like we had everything going and we were gonna drive right down the field, but sometimes you don’t get the exact look you think you’re gonna get and you gotta react and deal with adversity. I guess we got to do a better job of that,” Byrn said.
“Against Miami, everything was clicking. Everything was working. Everyone was playing so well. I guess today is just another lesson that if one or two things don’t go our way, we’ve got to overcome and move on to the next play. It’s frustrating any time you lose, but especially after we felt we grew leaps and bounds last week.”
Add in a special teams touchdown by Maryland’s Will Likely on a 63-yard punt return, and it’s easy to see why Beamer lamented during his postgame news conference, “I bet we’ll go back and look at how many chances we had to win this football game.”
By the time he reached the podium, Beamer had already turned his focus to the Hokies’ regular season finale at Virginia in two weeks and their upcoming bowl game. But as unlikely as it sounds, Virginia Tech still has an outside shot at qualifying for the ACC championship game. If the Hokies beat the Cavaliers, they could potentially win a multi-team tiebreaker because two of their three conference losses came against Atlantic Division opponents.
Only that scenario would remove the bitter taste Saturday’s loss left.
“I just told the younger guys, ‘Just remember this day,’ ” Thomas said. “It’s not the way you want to go out on your senior day. Never let it happen again. This is supposed to be a day you remember the rest of your life.”