The maroon flags spelling out H-O-K-I-E-S had rested in reserve through 57 minutes tonight, waiting for the moment the sellout crowd of 51,907 at Lane Stadium would erupt. It took much longer than No. 8 Virginia Tech would have liked, but back-to-back scores by the nation's top-ranked defense sent the crowd into a frenzy and propelled Virginia Tech to a 31-11 victory over Clemson.
Tigers quarterback Brandon Streeter had given the Hokies' secondary fits through much of the game, but he made two crucial errors in the fourth quarter. Clemson trailed Virginia Tech (3-0) 17-11 with 6 minutes 31 seconds remaining when Streeter was intercepted by junior Ike Charlton, who returned the ball 34 yards for a touchdown.
Just 38 seconds later, all-American defensive end Corey Moore sacked Streeter at the Clemson 32-yard line and returned the ball for the first touchdown of his career.
"I think that was the making of a football team," Hokies Coach Frank Beamer said. "On national TV, you've lost the momentum. . . . I'm really proud of the way we took over in the fourth quarter."
Clemson (1-2) had scored on a fake field goal with 11:31 to play on a nine-yard pass to running back Vince Ciurciu from place kicker Tony Lazzara, who had taken the direct snap. The Tigers added the two-point conversion on a pass from Streeter (27 of 43, 195 yards) to Jason LeMay to pull to 14-11.
But redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick answered, driving the Hokies 62 yards on 13 plays to set up a 47-yard field goal by Shayne Graham. Graham had missed a 48-yard attempt earlier, but this one split the uprights.
"I've said all year when the lights are on, big-time players step it up," Moore said. "If you're going to talk it you have to walk it. When it was 14-11 all I was thinking was that we were still up. And if they can't score, they don't win. Period. Then our offense drove down and got a field goal, and we had to take it over from there."
Vick threw three interceptions, all of which were aimed into double coverage, but also completed 7 of 13 passes for 88 yards and rushed for 41 more yards.
"We've just got to live with it," Beamer said. "Mike will learn from it and we'll be better next week. But let me tell you something about him, he's got it all--arm, release, feet, head. He's a great person for this football team. He just needs more experience."
The questions surrounding the strength of Vick's left ankle--which kept him out of the Hokies' Sept. 11 win over Alabama-Birmingham--were put to rest on the game's opening play when he scampered for a six-yard gain. Vick had played just over a quarter before being hurt in the season-opening win over James Madison.
Vick connected with Andre Davis on a 25-yard pass to give Virginia Tech a first down on its 45-yard line on its third possession. Nine plays later, Shyrone Stith (162 yards rushing) jumped over the top of the pile for a three-yard score and a 7-0 Virginia Tech lead with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
Though it took the Hokies nearly 14 minutes to score, it took them just 37 seconds to add to their lead. Virginia Tech forced Clemson to punt on its possession after the Hokies' score.
When Virginia Tech got the ball back after a 51-yard punt by Ryan Romano that rolled to the Hokies 45-yard line, Vick went to work. He kept the ball on an option play on first down, cutting up the middle and stiff-arming defenders for a 31-yard gain. Backup tailback Andre Kendrick got the next call, and took advantage of a huge hole opened by his offensive line for a 24-yard touchdown run with 14:12 left in the half.
"They came in here saying they were just playing another ranked team from Virginia, and we had to show them that this isn't the same team they played a week ago," Charlton said of Clemson's 33-14 win over then-No. 22 Virginia Sept. 11. "We gave them a touchdown we shouldn't have and put our own backs to the wall. Our defense wasn't going to break.