Virginia Tech 17, Wake Forest 10
More than a few times here Saturday, Virginia Tech players and fans felt as defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis did on the play that tilted the game toward the Hokies for the final time: "My heart stopped a little bit."
Tech had three chances to blow past Wake Forest in a pivotal ACC test for both teams but fumbled away two of them. And about two minutes after tailback Mike Imoh had sent Tech to a 17-10 lead with a seven-yard touchdown run, after twisting free from a tackle near the line of scrimmage, backup strong safety Mike Daniels ensured victory by breaking up a fourth-down Wake Forest pass a couple of yards shy of the end zone with seven seconds left.
So a Tech team that had been deflated two weeks ago after losing by a point to North Carolina State won for the second straight time on a late defensive stand. The latest came after quarterback Bryan Randall led a 78-yard drive for the winning touchdown.
"Kind of my drive," Randall said.
Randall accounted for 69 of the 78 yards, 24 on a pass to tight end Jeff King and 45 on three runs that had him either stepping out of tackles or breaking them. Two of the bursts, each for 12 yards, came on broken pass plays.
"It was kind of like when Michael Vick was there," Hokies Coach Frank Beamer said. "We hoped the receivers were covered, let him run."
Randall's final run, a 21-yarder to the Wake 11-yard line, was on a quarterback draw that once more befuddled tacklers.
"Usually, I see a lot of grass and one person I've got to make miss," Randall said. "Usually, it's a linebacker and I like my chances."
Two plays later, on second and six from the 7, Tech (4-2, 2-1) called a play that Imoh (Robinson) was supposed to take hard to the inside. He decided to take a chance by cutting outside -- and a Wake tackler seemed ready to grab him near the line of scrimmage.
"I knew I had to make him miss," Imoh said. Imoh freed himself and an instant later, as he was hit again, extended the ball over the goal line.
Wake (3-3, 0-3) had sent two earlier games into overtime, losses to Clemson and N.C. State, and seemed about to do it again by moving from its 31 to the Hokies 5. The next three plays were passes from quarterback Cory Randolph to Wake's best receiver, wideout Jason Anderson. Cornerback Jimmy Williams broke up the first, and Daniels, who was on the field because James Griffin had an ankle injury, swatted away the last.
"Just read it pretty good," Daniels said of the short route across the middle, "so I got a good jump on it."
That left the Hokies joyous, and tailbacks Justin Hamilton and Cedric Humes relieved. Each had lost a fumble with Tech seemingly on the verge of gaining double-figure leads. Humes's came on his only carry of the game, a 10-yarder early in the second quarter that would have given the Hokies a first down at the Wake 18. Hamilton's came as he tried to leap into the end zone from the 1 midway through the third quarter after running well on a series Imoh missed because of slight cramping in his calf muscle.
"Until I saw zeros on the clock," Hamilton said, "I was afraid I'd lost the game for us."
After gaining first and goal at the 8 with six-plus minutes left, Wake had to settle for a 20-yard field goal that tied the score at 10. Linebacker Mikal Baaqee (DeMatha) made a third-down stop at the 3.
Tech had the ball for 11 minutes of the first quarter and had a seven-minute time of possession advantage at halftime. But its lead was just three points. The fumblers, Hamilton and Humes, were trying to give the 5-foot-7 Imoh some rest for as many snaps as possible. Imoh touched the ball 37 times last week in the first start of his career. He had 29 carries and two kickoff returns Saturday.
"That's an issue," Beamer admitted after insisting, "I think we'll just keep giving it to him, and he'll let us know when he's tired."
Said Imoh: "No problem. I'll do whatever it takes."