But on fourth and goal, quarterback Braxton Burmeister was unable to find an open teammate immediately after he received the snap. Facing imminent pressure, the redshirt junior rolled to his right and threw into the end zone, with Tre Turner the closest wide receiver.
The ball hit the ground, and Virginia Tech, without a timeout, was unable to stop the clock as the final 45 seconds ticked away in a 27-21 loss in front of an announced crowd of 60,022.
“Obviously you can learn a lot from a loss,” said Hokies junior linebacker Dax Hollifield, one of the unquestioned leaders on the field and in the locker room. “We battled. Very proud of our team, but a loss is a loss at the end of the day, so just got to come back next week and prepare harder, prepare better, execute better.”
That the Hokies (2-1) were even threatening down the stretch in their first road game this season was a testament to resiliency. It appeared the outcome was all but ensured following Casey Legg’s 44-yard field goal that gave West Virginia (2-1) a 27-7 lead with 8:17 left in the third quarter.
Two possessions later, tailback Raheem Blackshear broke free around the right side for a 20-yard touchdown run on second and 10, drawing the Hokies within 27-14 with one second remaining in the third quarter.
The defense forced a fumble and a punt on West Virginia’s first two drives of the fourth quarter, and the Hokies took over at the West Virginia 47 with 4:48 left. Seven plays later, Burmeister connected with wide receiver Jalen Holston for a 29-yard touchdown on third and 17 with 3:10 to go.
Virginia Tech got the ball back for a final time thanks to cornerback Jermaine Waller’s interception of quarterback Jarret Doege on third and 10, putting the Hokies in business at the West Virginia 17 with 2:06 to play.
Blackshear gained six yards on first down, and Holston ran for eight on second down to the West Virginia 3. On second and goal, Burmeister handed off to Holston on a read-pass option for a loss of a yard when it looked as if he could have pulled the ball out and run around the left side into open real estate.
A third-down pass intended for Turner was off the mark, setting up Virginia Tech’s last gasp in this border rivalry, renewed for the first time since 2017.
“Our kids, it’s obviously a pretty tough locker room right now,” Hokies Coach Justin Fuente said. “Incredible fight and battle to find a way to have a chance to win the football game. We did not play well in the first half. … Our guys came back the second half and really just kept fighting and scratching and clawing and ultimately had a chance to win the game there, so our guys are pretty crushed. We’re all crushed.”
Virginia Tech in part was undone by three trips to at least the 5-yard line in which it failed to score. But the Hokies put themselves in a precarious position early when they proved incapable of completing the most rudimentary of football tasks at times.
Take, for instance, kicker John Parker Romo, who missed a chip-shot field goal near the conclusion of the second quarter when the Hokies desperately needed something, anything, to uplift them heading into the locker room after an unsightly first half.
Or the boatload of missed assignments on defense that allowed Mountaineers players to gain separation. Or the errant throws from Burmeister deep in West Virginia territory with his wide receivers essentially uncovered in the end zone.
Burmeister finished 19-for-31 passing for 227 yards with two touchdowns, and wide receiver Kaleb Smith added team highs of six catches for 62 yards as part of a passing attack that was missing tight end James Mitchell. The NFL prospect is out for the season after he tore the ACL in his right knee last week.
It didn’t help when Hokies starting right tackle Silas Dzansi left Saturday’s game with a leg injury in the first quarter. The redshirt junior’s absence forced a reshuffling of the offensive line, which surrendered six sacks to the Mountaineers.
Dzansi’s status remains unclear, according to Fuente.
“We’re definitely a bunch of fighters,” Hokies center Brock Hoffman said. “We’ll fight until the clock says 0:00, but we’ve just got to start faster. We had a good second half. It wasn’t like an easy second half. We had to play our whole way back, but if we start faster in that first half, the game will go our way.”