By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2009; D03
BLACKSBURG, VA. -- With the leafless trees and the crisp air, the setting this time of year at Virginia Tech has often been accompanied by championship implications. Although the November backdrop looks the same, the stakes Saturday felt foreign for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies are not playing for an ACC title for the first time in three years, but Virginia Tech nonetheless put on a performance to remember in a 38-10 win over North Carolina State before a capacity crowd of 66,233 at Lane Stadium.
The Hokies (8-3, 5-2) vanquished the Wolfpack (4-7, 1-6) with a swarming defense and an attacking offense.
Virginia Tech has won three straight games following losses to Georgia Tech on Oct. 17 and North Carolina on Oct. 29.
"I'm proud of our whole football team, how they've responded the last three weeks," Coach Frank Beamer said. "This team has done a great job sticking together. They like each other and they play hard."
Linebacker Cody Grimm became only the eighth player in division I-A to force three fumbles in a game, tying an NCAA record.
Running back Ryan Williams added 120 rushing yards on 32 carries, giving him 1,355 rushing yards on the season, breaking the ACC's freshman rushing record set last season by the Hokies' Darren Evans (1,265 yards). Williams had a career-high four touchdowns.
"I was just out there grinding for all the yardage," Williams said. "The record ended up coming my way. It feels good to have it."
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor capped the Hokies' evening with a 38-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, who had a career-high 164 receiving yards on six catches.
Taylor regularly took deep shots as the Hokies looked to exploit an N.C. State secondary beleaguered by injuries. His numbers have looked better if the Hokies' wide receivers had not dropped a number of passes. He threw for 197 yards, completing 9 of 17 passes.
"Overall our offense is just playing with more confidence and just believing in each other and making plays for each other," Taylor said.
But Virginia Tech struck an emphatic tone at the outset with its defense. Grimm forced the three fumbles on N.C. State's first four plays.
"Today was more of a case of getting kind of lucky," said Grimm, who had eight tackles and two sacks. "Realistically, if I didn't have those three fumbles, it wasn't any better a day than usual."
A former walk-on turned starter, Grimm began his senior day in grand fashion by setting up the Hokies for two first-quarter scoring drives.
On the first play of the game, Grimm forced the fumble and then recovered the ball after sacking quarterback Russell Wilson. Virginia Tech took over at N.C. State's 34-yard line but settled for a field goal after stalling in the red zone.
On the Wolfpack's second possession, Grimm stripped wide receiver Darrell Davis after an eight-yard reception at N.C. State's 25-yard line along the sideline; cornerback Stephan Virgil recovered the loose ball. This time, Virginia Tech parlayed the field position into a trip to the end zone, taking a 10-0 lead after a one-yard touchdown run by Williams.
"I can't tell you how bad it is," N.C. State Coach Tom O'Brien said of his team's fumbles. "Just really bad football."
The Wolfpack was able to move the ball well through the air. Given time, Wilson looked comfortable knifing through Virginia Tech's secondary, but he was often on the run because the Hokies applied pressure with blitzes. He threw for 234 yards and a touchdown and was sacked five times.
"We got him on the run a couple of times and I think that affects you on other plays; you're waiting for pressure to come," Beamer said, adding that defensive coordinator Bud Foster did a good job of "mixing pressures and our players did a good job keeping the heat on."
But Virginia Tech's offensive stars showed on Saturday. And in the third quarter, Williams added another indelible moment to his season with his remarkable final touchdown run.
Williams capped a 62-yard scoring drive with a 19-yard touchdown run on the Hokies' opening possession of the second half. Williams broke loose when N.C. State's Earl Wolff grabbed the back of his jersey around the 10-yard line. But it did not stop Williams, who dragged Wolff into the end zone like a sled dog in the Iditarod.
The image of Wolff clinging to Williams's jersey paralleled the grit of a Hokies team that has continued to fight after its back-to-back losses earlier in the season. Although Virginia Tech is not in the hunt for a title, it has refused to go away, as it showed again on Saturday.
"For this team to keep improving and getting better and playing together after they had a tremendous disappointment there four and five games ago," Beamer said, "it says a lot about them."