BLACKSBURG, VA., OCT. 27 -- Virginia Tech raced to a 20-point lead in the first half of its homecoming game at Lane Field today, then held off an inspired Southern Mississippi team for a 20-16 triumph.

"It all worked out well in the end," said Hokies Coach Frank Beamer.

The Eagles closed to 20-14 late in the game, then forced Tech to punt formation from its 23 with only seven seconds left.

Chris Baucia took the snap, but rather than punt he backed out of the end zone, giving the Eagles a safety for 20-16. No time showed on the scoreboard clock, but because of a timekeeper's error the official time was being kept on the field.

After several minutes of debate, the officials ruled one second remained, meaning Tech had to kick off and give Southern Mississippi one last try.

The Hokies bounced the kick 25 yards and the Eagles tried a series of laterals. But wide receiver Wil Roberts found no one behind him and was tackled, thereby ending a horrible second half for the Hokies.

"We finally put ourselves in a position to win the game there in the second half, and we felt like that's what we would do," Eagles Coach Curley Hallman said. "We just didn't play well in the first half, and they did."

Opening the second half, the Hokies drove 51 yards before losing seven. Mickey Thomas then missed left on a 39-yard field goal attempt, ending his streak of 14 consecutive successes at home. That was the closest the Hokies came to scoring after the intermission.

The Eagles then drove 78 yards in 10 plays, the big play a 30-yard pass from Brett Favre to flanker Michael Jackson. Fullback Roland Johnson ran the last five yards, cutting Southern Mississippi's deficit to 20-7.

Tech's next possession found Will Furrer, who had completed 22 of 29 for 221 yards to that point, leaving with leg cramps. He later returned, but without him the offense stalled.

In the fourth quarter Southern Mississippi sustained another long touchdown drive. On third and goal from the 8, Favre hit tailback Eddie Ray Jackson at the 2. Jackson spun through a tackle and fell backward into the end zone, making it 20-14.

After trading possesions, Tech punted with 2:49 left and Tony Smith returned the ball 29 yards to midfield. Two plays later it was first and 10 at the 29. But on fourth and three, Favre threw incomplete to give the Hokies the ball with 1:09 to go. That's when they tried to run out the clock.

Furrer's passing and wideout Nick Cullen's receiving had staked Tech to that big halftime lead.

The two connected 11 times in the first half for 138 yards. Later in the second half, after Furrer returned, he found Cullen for his 13th catch, tying the school record set by split end Donald Snell in 1985.

For both players it was a record day. Furrer's 24 completions to nine receivers are his best and Cullen's 170 yards receiving are tops for him.

But tailback Tony Kennedy scored the Hokies touchdowns -- on a five-yard pass and a 14-yard run. Two Thomas field goals made up the other six points.

The Hokies' defense played equally well in the opening half and allowed the Eagles only 83 yards and three first downs.