BLACKSBURG, Va. – For seven games this year, Virginia Tech’s offense plodded along, avoiding turnovers and doing just enough to set the stage for a defense dominant enough to overcome any deficiencies. On Saturday, such a small margin for error came back to haunt the Hokies in historic fashion.
With its offense succumbing to the sort of mistakes that afflicted them a year ago, No. 16 Virginia Tech was upset by Duke, 13-10, in front of 63,326 stunned fans at Lane Stadium. It was the Blue Devils’ first-ever win over the Hokies in Blacksburg, and their first road win against a ranked opponent since 1971.
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas threw a career-high four interceptions, including one to Duke linebacker Kelby Brown near midfield with 4 minutes 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils (6-2, 2-2 ACC) ran out the clock from there, converting on fourth and inches and then dousing Coach David Cutcliffe with a Gatorade bath after attaining bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season.
Upon seeing the final box score, a frustrating afternoon became even more bewildering for the Hokies (6-2, 3-1). They outgained Duke, 387-198, controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes, converted on four of their six fourth-down chances and held the Blue Devils without a completion in the second half. Duke did not convert on third down the entire game.
“Sometimes maybe the best team doesn’t win, and I think today was one of those days,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.
But the Hokies had plenty of opportunities to tie the score or take the lead as the second half progressed.
Duke jumped out to a 13-0 lead when quarterback Anthony Boone scored on a nine-yard touchdown run with just more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter, thanks in part to two coverage penalties by the Hokies. But Virginia Tech stiffened from there, holding the Blue Devils without any points on their final five possessions of the game.
Initially, it seemed that Virginia Tech’s offense was poised for a dramatic comeback. After Thomas (21 of 38 for 214 yards) threw his third interception of the afternoon, he found his bearings on a 99-yard drive that re-ignited a listless crowd. Thomas hit wide receiver Demitri Knowles for a 56-yard bomb from his own end zone and soon followed with a five-yard touchdown run that cut Virginia Tech’s deficit to 13-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hokies place kicker Cody Journell then added a 42-yard field goal, and momentum seemed to turn for good when freshman cornerback Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) responded with his third interception of the day once Duke got the ball back. But Journell hooked a 40-yard field goal wide left with just more than six minutes left in regulation, his second miss of the game.
Virginia Tech’s defense created four turnovers Saturday, but the offense did not score any points off of them.
“It’s tough because we turned it over ourselves,” said Coach Frank Beamer, whose team entered the game with just seven turnovers all season. “I don’t think we played a Virginia Tech football game tonight.”
An offense that had scored more than two touchdowns against Football Bowl Subdivision competition just once this year struggled mightily in the first half. The Hokies mustered four punts, two Thomas interceptions, two turnovers on downs and no points before halftime. They were just 4 of 18 on third down for the game.
Even when Virginia Tech did move the ball, though, it found a way to self-destruct. In the second quarter, the Hokies had second and goal from the 1-yard line only to watch the drive end when Thomas threw an interception in the end zone on third and goal. A play earlier, Thomas had a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver D.J. Coles negated when Coles was flagged for an illegal shift.
“We’re getting down there and getting where we need to be, but then once we get there, something happens and you just can’t have those setbacks,” wide receiver Willie Byrn said. “You can have them every once in a while and . . . make incredible plays to overcome them, but a lot of the times if you turn the ball over and if you have execution problems, the other team is gonna beat you. Duke was certainly good enough to do that today.”
Thomas, who had gone 116 straight passes without an interception, said his subpar performance “was a little bit of everything. Probably a couple bad decisions.” He did finish with a team-high 101 rushing yards and set a new program record for career rushing touchdowns (24) by a quarterback.
That, though, could not take the sting off the program’s first loss to Duke since 1981.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing. We’ve been walking that line,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “Today our kids learned how important the details are. Lining up incorrectly, penalties and turnovers did it to us.”