“I feel like my entire time here, all those breaks have gone the other team’s way,” Tyler said after Virginia Tech escaped with a dramatic 29-21 win over Marshall in triple overtime. “It just felt like today they were finally coming our way. It’s nice to finally get a game like that.”
Whether Virginia Tech is as snake-bitten as Tyler suggests is up for debate, considering it won three overtime games a season ago. But there was little doubt about the fortuitous bounces that went the Hokies’ way on an afternoon wide receiver Willie Byrn described as “a roller coaster ride.”
Thomas scored the game-winning points, rumbling into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown in the third overtime and following it up by running in the two-point conversion. From there, he held his breath along with 64,040 fans clad in orange and maroon ponchos.
On the final play of the game, with Marshall facing fourth and 10, Thundering Herd wide receiver Davonte Allen couldn’t corral what would have been a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. The Hokies then rushed the field in a muted celebration, knowing well how tenuous their latest victory had been.
Virginia Tech (3-1) could have closed out the win in double overtime, but backup place kicker Ethan Keyserling missed wide right on a 32-yard field goal attempt. He also missed a 50-yard kick in the first overtime and a 32-yard attempt in the second quarter.
Keyserling was called into duty for the first time in his collegiate career because redshirt senior Cody Journell did not dress for Saturday’s game. Coach Frank Beamer said after the game that Journell was suspended one game for violating team rules. He would not elaborate on the nature of Journell’s violation.
On Marshall’s possession in the second overtime, Hokies defensive end J.R. Collins sacked quarterback Rakeem Cato and stripped him of the ball. Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins — all 311 pounds of him — nearly returned the fumble for a touchdown.
“I think anyone else but him would’ve scored,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster cracked after the game.
It would have been a fitting conclusion for Hopkins after he blocked a potential game-winning 39-yard field goal attempt by Thundering Herd place kicker Justin Haig moments earlier in overtime. Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller also blocked a Marshall punt two minutes into the first quarter, and Virginia Tech jumped out to a 7-0 lead when linebacker Derek DiNardo returned it for a touchdown.
“It’s good to get back to doing some things that we’ve done for a long time that win ballgames,” said Hokies Coach Frank Beamer, whose once-vaunted special teams have come under scrutiny this season.
Virginia Tech’s defense held Marshall (2-2) scoreless in the second half and all three overtimes, recovering after Cato (19 for 41 for 228 yards and three total touchdowns) led his team on three straight touchdown drives before halftime. Hokies cornerback Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) and safety Kyshoen Jarrett each came up with clutch fourth-quarter interceptions to help force overtime.
Thomas, meanwhile, continued to be erratic throwing the football, although he did run for 58 yards and account for three touchdowns. At one point, Thomas (18 for 34 for 181 yards) had nine straight incompletions, including two interceptions. The Hokies converted just 2 of 16 third-down opportunities for the game.
However, some good karma came Thomas’s way following a 43-yard run by tailback Trey Edmunds (110 yards on 22 carries) with Marshall leading 21-14 in the fourth quarter.
Facing fourth and goal and two plays after fumbling a snap, Thomas threw a pass directly into the hands of Marshall cornerback Darryl Roberts. But the ball flicked off his fingers and into the waiting arms of Byrn for a six-yard touchdown that tied the score at 21 with 6 minutes 16 seconds left in regulation.
Byrn would later call the catch “mostly luck,” and Thomas made sure to thank God before declaring, “Finally, one went my way.”
“Usually the flags are against us, the bounces are against us,” Thomas said. “But when you keep fighting, keep bringing the effort every single time, luck doesn’t just appear for no reason.”