Va. Tech Wears Down Cincinnati
Sunday, September 24, 2006
BLACKSBURG, Sept. 23 -- The Virginia Tech football team faced problems Saturday afternoon it had yet to confront this season: an opposing pass rush that did more than play dead; smattering of boos from the fans; and, most significantly, the specter of losing at Lane Stadium.
An overwhelming favorite that had yet to allow a point at home, the No.11 Hokies trailed Cincinnati by a point after three quarters. Running back Branden Ore came to the rescue with 152 second-half rushing yards, and Victor Harris sealed the game with a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown, as the Hokies won, 29-13.
Virginia Tech (4-0, 2-0 ACC) outscored its first three opponents -- Northeastern, North Carolina and Duke -- 109-10, with the outcome of each game decided by halftime. Cincinnati (1-3, 0-1 Big East) provided an unexpected challenge.
"If you're to be a successful team, if we're going to go back to the ACC championship, if we're going to play in a BCS bowl game, it's a given you're not going to win every game comfortably," quarterback Sean Glennon said. "You're going to have to grind. It's great that we did it today. We proved that we can be down, that we can come back from a deficit."
The Bearcats led 10-5 at halftime, the first half ending with Cincinnati's third sack of Glennon and a sampling of boos cascading on to the field. The Hokies had minus-eight rushing yards at halftime, and Ore had carried the ball only seven times for 18 yards.
"Enough of this," Glennon said. "We're the better team here. Let's go out, play Virginia Tech football. Enough of this messing around."
On the fifth play of the second half, Glennon hoisted a pass to 6-foot-4 Justin Harper, who was covered by the 6-foot Mike Mickens. The cornerback clung to Harper, but the wide receiver leapt over and hauled in the pass in the end zone, putting Tech up 12-10.
The Bearcats responded by running at Tech's defense, which entered the game allowing a nation's-best 3.3 points per game. Cincinnati had rushed for 31 yards combined in its past two games, but it finished with 121 Saturday. Coach Mark Dantonio decided before the game he would run at the Hokies, and on the drive they ran it 11 times.
"That doesn't happen that much around here," linebacker Vince Hall said. "That's what [defensive coordinator Bud] Foster said: 'They're running the ball down your throat, smash-mouth football. They're challenging you right now. You got to step up to the challenge.' "
The drive lasted 15 plays and 8 minutes 45 seconds, but Tech held them to a 46-yard field goal by Kevin Lovell. Still, that put Cincinnati ahead 13-12, a lead it would take into the fourth quarter. "That's the first time this year I felt like: 'Okay, here we are. This is Virginia Tech right here. Let's go,' " Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "I kind of liked that."
Virginia Tech football this season means Ore, Ore and more Ore, the running back whose feet pump like the needles of a sewing machine. On Virginia Tech's final two scoring drives, Ore carried the ball a combined 14 times for 126 yards, grinding both the clock and the will of the Bearcats' defense.
The first drive resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Brandon Pace, which gave the Hokies a 15-13 lead nine seconds into the fourth quarter. Xavier Adibi would stop a third-and-one scramble by Dustin Grutza, forcing a three-and-out on the Bearcats' next possession.
Virginia Tech took over on its 26 and quickly moved to the 44. Facing a third and one, Glennon handed to Ore, who juked a defender with a quick hop to the right. Then Ore darted left around the end and ran 46 yards to the 10-yard line. Three plays later, he plunged for a one-yard touchdown, making the score 22-13.
Glennon had told the offense before Ore's touchdown that if it scored, the game was over. Harris made Glennon's word stand. He jumped in front of a pass by Grutza intended for Dominick Goodman and took it 72 yards for a touchdown. Harris ended Cincinnati's final drive with his second interception.
"We needed to grow up a little," Hokies center Danny McGrath said. "I think we did grow up in the second half. It's always good to get a little gut-check. Come in on Monday pretty humble. We got humbled by this win."