By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 4:15 AM
BLACKSBURG, VA. - Just two weeks ago, the Virginia Tech football team believed it had as good a shot as any to win a national championship. After Saturday, though, the Hokies have to wonder if they could even win the Colonial Athletic Association title.
Five days after beginning the season with a loss to No. 3 Boise State, No. 13 Virginia Tech suffered the biggest upset of this young college football season, losing its home opener to division I-AA James Madison, 21-16, in front of a stunned crowd of 66,233.
It was the first time Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer has lost to a division I-AA opponent since taking over the program in 1987. It also was only the second time a division I-AA team defeated a ranked division I-A team, the first being when Appalachian State shocked No. 5 Michigan in 2007.
James Madison senior quarterback Drew Dudzik (Centreville High) scored the game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard run, capping a Dukes comeback that began with them trailing 16-7 early in the second half.
"It's embarrassing. Words can't describe how I feel right now," said Hokies sophomore running back Ryan Williams, who rushed for 91 yards. "We should not be losing."
The Hokies have themselves to blame on a rainy afternoon that featured several offensive gaffes and plenty of missed tackles.
After Dudzik's touchdown gave the Dukes their first lead of the game, Virginia Tech senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor drove the Hokies inside the James Madison 20-yard-line, but facing fourth and two at the Dukes 17-yard line, he could not connect with wide receiver Jarrett Boykin.
Then, after forcing a James Madison punt, the Hokies again drove down the field to the Dukes 12-yard line, but junior running back Darren Evans fumbled with less than six minutes remaining, and James Madison recovered. The Dukes were able to run the clock out from there.
For the game, Virginia Tech got inside the James Madison 25-yard line six times while racking up 238 rushing yards, but only came away with one touchdown and three field goals from place kicker Chris Hazley.
"We need to block better," said Beamer, adding that the short week of practice after Monday night's loss did not contribute to the defeat. "I think the expectations are that this was gonna be a win."
At the start, it appeared as if the Hokies would be in for an easy victory. After forcing a three-and-out on James Madison's first possession, Taylor found Boykin for a nine-yard touchdown reception to give Virginia Tech a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
The completion capped off a 17-play drive that began on the Hokies 6-yard line and took more than eight minutes off the game clock. The drive was Virginia Tech's longest, in terms of plays, since 2005.
But Virginia Tech's performance went from impressive to sloppy, and the momentum turned for good thanks to some mistakes by the Hokies' defense, a unit that features seven new starters this fall. After holding the Dukes to 10 yards on their first 12 plays of the contest, James Madison senior Jamal Sullivan took an innocent-looking swing pass down the sideline for a 77-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter, breaking three Hokies tackles on his way to the end zone.
"After we gave up that long touchdown, we kind of got down on ourselves a little bit," said linebacker Bruce Taylor, one of the culprits on the play. "That was a play that three, four guys had a chance to make a tackle. After that, I just feel we weren't the same."
Dudzik was particularly effective, confusing Virginia Tech's defenders with his quick decisions running the spread option. After Hazley made a field goal to give the Hokies a 16-7 lead early in the third quarter, the Dukes drove right down the field on a 14-play, 66-yard touchdown drive that Dudzik finished off with a seven-yard touchdown run.
The score was set up by a holding penalty on Bruce Taylor that gave the Dukes a fresh set of downs inside the Virginia Tech 10-yard-line.
Three plays after Dudzik's touchdown run, Taylor threw his first interception of the season when safety Jonathan Williams jumped a pass thrown toward Boykin. Taylor did not have his best game, losing a fumble in the first half. He ran for 86 yards and completed 10 of 16 passes for 124 yards.
It was Dudzik who was the best signal caller on this day. He took over after Taylor's interception and marched the Dukes on an eight-play, 66-yard touchdown drive that gave James Madison the most unlikely victory of this season.
In his postgame news conference Taylor could only look out at the cameras with a blank stare on his face, trying to find answers for an 0-2 record that seemed out of the question just two short weeks ago.
"People usually say 'Go back to the drawing board,' but we seriously have to do that, just the whole team and see what's going on," Taylor said. "I can't put my finger on it, it's just a bunch of things we need to correct. . . . We just gotta get back on the field, suck it up, and start over."