By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; 1:23 AM
BLACKSBURG, VA. - Virginia Tech running back David Wilson has said throughout this season that, despite leading the team in big plays, Hokies fans had yet to see his true breakaway speed. On Thursday night, though, the sophomore accelerated his way into Virginia Tech lore, as two of his bursts propelled the 20th-ranked Hokies to a 28-21 victory over Georgia Tech.
After Yellow Jackets running back Orwin Smith's nine-yard touchdown run tied the score at 21 with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Wilson took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, running down the sideline almost untouched. Wilson also scored early in the quarter, scampering around the edge of the Hokies' offensive line for a 15-yard touchdown that tied the score at 14.
"When I first seen the kick coming to me, I was excited because they'd been avoiding me the whole time," Wilson said of his game-winning return. "It was crunch time . . . and I was able to come through."
But the Yellow Jackets did not go away easily, driving to the Virginia Tech 17-yard line before Hokies cornerback Rashad Carmichael (Gwynn Park) intercepted Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington with eight seconds remaining to seal the closer-than-expected victory.
Washington played the entire second half because the Yellow Jackets' star quarterback, senior Joshua Nesbitt, left the game just before halftime after breaking his right forearm.
Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor (15-of-25 passing for 125 yards) gave the Hokies their first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter when he found tight end Andre Smith (Seneca Valley) for a two-yard touchdown pass.
"I thought we hung in there and battled," Coach Frank Beamer said of the Hokies (7-2, 5-0) , who remained the only undefeated team in ACC play. "It wasn't a beautiful thing to watch but the score was pretty, so I like that."
The game certainly didn't go the way defensive coordinator Bud Foster drew it up. He had spent much of his offseason devising ways to slow down Nesbitt following the Yellow Jackets' 28-23 victory over Virginia Tech a year ago.
Early on, it seemed as if Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3) would pick up right where it left off in 2009. On their opening possession, the Yellow Jackets marched down the field on a nine-play, 58-yard touchdown drive that ended with Nesbitt diving into the end zone on a one-yard run.
Then, after Virginia Tech chose to punt when its opening drive stalled at the Georgia Tech 38-yard line, Nesbitt got his second touchdown of the game in electrifying fashion. The senior sprinted untouched on a 71-yard scoring run, a dash that gave him more career rushing yards than any other quarterback in ACC history. It was the third time this season the Hokies have fallen behind by at least 14 points in the first half of a game.
Virginia Tech finally responded on the first play of the second quarter when running back Ryan Williams (seven rushes, 30 yards) scampered around the edge of the Virginia Tech line for a four-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play, 77-yard drive.
But after the Virginia Tech defense forced its first three-and-out of the game, Taylor made a rare mistake after he completed eight of his first 10 passes. With the Hokies facing third and goal, the senior maneuvered in the pocket for close to 10 seconds before throwing an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Georgia Tech's Rod Sweeting in the end zone.
Nesbitt committed a similar error later in the quarter. On third and goal, he telegraphed a pass to Anthony Allen that was intercepted by safety Davon Morgan to ensure the score would remain 14-7 in Georgia Tech's favor entering halftime.
During the interception return, Nesbitt lunged at Morgan to try to make a tackle, but broke his right forearm in the process. Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson said afterward that Nesbitt could miss the rest of the season. Up to that point, Nesbitt had 90 yards rushing on just six carries.
Nesbitt's injury "had a big effect on the game because he manages that offense," Carmichael said. "It's tough to get another guy to come in and run that offense as well as he did. Just from watching film, it's pretty tough to replace Nesbitt."
Playing a version of their nickel defense, the Hokies were able to make just enough timely plays once the Yellow Jackets lost their leader. Despite out gaining the Hokies 426 to 335 and finishing with 346 yards rushing, Georgia Tech scored just seven points after the first quarter.
Lucky for Virginia Tech, it hasn't relied on just one playmaker this year. But Thursday night wasn't the first time Wilson has been a catalyst in a dramatic comeback. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown to begin the second half of Virginia Tech's dramatic 41-30 victory over North Carolina State last month.
Before the season began, Virginia Tech even considered redshirting Wilson since the Hokies already had Williams and junior Darren Evans (15 carries, 70 yards) in the backfield. With his latest explosion, though, any doubt about having Wilson on this year's roster is now a moot point.
"That decision is getting better and better," Beamer said. "He's a tough guy to catch."