ATLANTA — Virginia Tech entered Thursday night exactly where it hoped to be come November — atop the ACC’s Coastal Division and in control of its own destiny as it seeks another conference title. But even the Hokies were willing to concede there remained doubters considering they had yet to defeat a top-25 opponent this year.
But with a national television audience watching, No. 10 Virginia Tech reminded those skeptics that the path to an ACC championship still goes through Blackbsurg, defeating No. 20 Georgia Tech, 37-26, behind a bruising run game.
Quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson led the charge, accounting for 454 of Virginia Tech’s 476 yards. Thomas threw for 209 yards, ran for another 70 and finished with five total touchdowns (three passing, two running). Wilson, meanwhile, finished with a career-high 175 yards on 23 carries.
The win leaves the Hokies (9-1, 5-1 ACC) just one Virginia loss away from clinching the Coastal Division title for the fifth time in seven years and eliminated the Yellow Jackets (7-3, 4-3) from contention. But this latest conquest didn’t come easily as the teams totaled 816 yards and attempted just 24 passes during an exciting, back-and-forth contest that featured four lead changes.
That sort of run imbalance is to be expected from the Yellow Jackets, who came into the game with the nation’s second-best rushing attack. But when the final whistle blew, it was Virginia Tech that had beaten Georgia Tech at its own game, outgaining the Yellow Jackets on the ground, 267-243.
“I didn’t really think about rushing for more than them or anything, but when you hear it, you’re like, ‘Dang, we rushed for more yards,’ ” Wilson said.
Those yards would have been a moot point if not for a pivotal turn of events with the Hokies trailing by four late in the third quarter. On third and 19, it appeared Thomas had been sacked, but as the 6-foot-6, 254-pound quarterback battled for some additional yards while being gang-tackled, Georgia Tech linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu punched the Thomas in the helmet and drew a personal-foul penalty that gave the Hokies a first down.
Two plays later, Wilson scampered down the sideline for 44 yards. Thomas then capped off the momentum-changing sequence by turning a routine quarterback sneak into a 12-yard touchdown run that gave the Hokies a 27-26 lead they would never relinquish heading into the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came on Georgia Tech’s next drive when Coach Paul Johnson opted to go for it on fourth and one from his own 31-yard-line. Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins burst through the line, allowing linebacker Tariq Edwards to stop Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington for no gain.
“Fourth and one, their offense, they had to know they were gonna get it and we stopped them,” Hopkins said. “It changed the game.”
Tight end Chris Drager made the effort worthwhile when he boxed out a Georgia Tech defender in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown pass from Thomas that gave Virginia Tech an eight-point lead with 9 minutes 49 seconds remaining. The Hokies defense then came up with one more stop and place kicker Cody Journell iced the game by connecting on a 23-yard field with just more than three minutes remaining.
Georgia Tech did have success running the ball, particularly early in both halves. The Yellow Jackets took a 7-0 lead after their first possession of the game, making it look easy on an 80-yard scoring drive that saw them pick up 92 yards on the ground because of penalties. Then to start to the second half, Washington (77 rushing yards, three touchdowns) rumbled in from one yard out to cap a 74-yard touchdown drive.
But each time the Yellow Jackets made a surge, Thomas seemed to have an answer. Though he was just 7 of 13 throwing the ball, Thomas averaged nearly 30 yards per completion and his pile-moving runs allowed Virginia Tech to convert 10 of its 16 third downs and win the time of possession battle.
“It was a fight. They delivered a couple of blows and we delivered a couple of blows,” said Thomas, who also threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Danny Coale that allowed the Hokies to take a 21-13 lead into halftime. “Everybody knew what was at stake.”
And yet briefly, the Hokies looked to be on the ropes. Just when Thomas converted consecutive third and longs to seemingly stemmed the tide following Washington’s early second-half touchdown, Wilson gave the momentum right back when he fumbled for the fourth time this year. The Yellow Jackets soon capitalized as running back Embry Peeples took a pitch 39 yards and Washington followed with a 29-yard run. The quarterback then got his third touchdown of the night — a new career high — to give his team a 26-21 lead.
That, though, would be Georgia Tech’s last foray into the end zone, and now the Hokies find themselves in prime position with two regular season games to go. The winner of this annual matchup has gone on to win the division each of the past six seasons.
“When you get two good football teams together, you’re going to have some momentum swings. That’s what happened today,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “I’m glad we got the last one.”