BLACKSBURG, Va. — Having locked up the ACC Coastal Division title on Friday when North Carolina State upset North Carolina, Virginia Tech had little to play for but pride against its rival Virginia on Saturday. Outclassed, overwhelmed and utterly exhausted, the Cavaliers barely put up a fight.
The result was Virginia Tech’s resounding 52-10 win in front of 63,120 fans at Lane Stadium — its 13th consecutive win over Virginia — which lacked the usual zing of an in-state rivalry but carried plenty of meaning for the Hokies nonetheless.
Senior tackle Augie Conte confirmed as much as he cradled the silver Commonwealth Cup after the game.
“If you don’t beat U-Va., your season isn’t considered a success,” he said.
The margin of victory was the second largest in the Hokies’ favor in the history of the series, which dates from 1895. The result had as much to do with the Cavaliers’ unraveling as the Hokies’ dominance.
Two weeks after Coach Bronco Mendenhall named former third-stringer Matt Johns the starting quarterback in order to let junior Kurt Benkert “take a step back,” Virginia alternated them Saturday, occasionally on a snap-by-snap basis. The result was ineffective, with neither able to generate any rhythm or yardage in Virginia’s seventh consecutive loss to end the season. Johns and Benkert combined to complete 13 of 36 attempts for 139 yards, and Johns threw two interceptions in his final college game.
“We thought Matt Johns would give us some composure and poise,” Mendenhall said. “We thought he would manage early downs and some of the run-pass option things. We thought different things would help us add some momentum and consistency throughout the game.”
But Virginia’s plan backfired. In a last-ditch effort trailing by 35 in the third quarter, Virginia put Connor Brewer in the game. The senior quarterback promptly fumbled on a running play, which Virginia Tech linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka scooped up and returned 70 yards for a touchdown.
By then the game was well out of reach for the Cavaliers (2-10, 1-7 ACC), trailing 45-3. But the Hokies (9-3, 6-2), declined to ease up or eat clock as backup quarterback Brenden Motley threw a 31-yard pass to Travon McMillian to stretch their lead to 52-3 before the fourth quarter.
The Hokies ran onto the field to mob Motley, a senior playing his last game in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech dominated in all phases of the game, beginning at quarterback.
Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans completed 16 of 27 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another. He threw his 25th and 26th touchdown passes before he was pulled, breaking the Hokies’ season record set by Tyrod Taylor in 2012.
Evans’s offense compiled 579 yards to Virginia’s 247. They had five rushers with at least 32 yards, led by senior fullback Sam Rogers, who had the day of his life. Wearing the honorary No. 25 jersey as former coach Frank Beamer watched the game with his family from a suite in the stadium, Rogers ran for two touchdowns and a career-high 105 of the Hokies’ 289 rushing yards. After the game ended and fans left the stadium, Rogers proposed to his girlfriend on the field. She said yes.
“Our job as coaches is to influence young people’s lives for the better in terms of fundamental skills of work ethic and doing the right thing,” Virginia Tech Coach Justin Fuente said. “Every now and then you come across a guy, a player, that actually has that effect on the coaches. And that’s the kind of guy that Sam is.”
Virginia Tech now looks to fourth-ranked Clemson, their opponent in next Saturday’s ACC championship game in Orlando. Virginia will return to Charlottesville and prepare for significant remodeling heading into Mendenhall’s second year as its coach.
“It’s a hard one,” Mendenhall said, when asked to summarize his first year at Virginia. “I don’t know how to describe that. Learning, growth, challenge and resilience. This season has been the most learning that has ever taken place in my football career.”
Virginia had a glimmer of hope late in the first quarter, trailing just 7-0 with the ball at the Hokies 38-yard line after safety Quin Blanding recovered a fumble by the Hokies’ Travon McMillian. But the Cavaliers moved backward six yards on a three-and-out — they converted 3 of 16 third downs for the game — and from there the Hokies imposed their will.
Virginia Tech took the ensuing drive 99 yards in 10 plays, capped by Cam Phillips’s 39-yard touchdown catch over Blanding. Virginia went three-and-out twice more in a row, and Virginia Tech responded each time with a touchdown drive to take a 28-0 lead into halftime.
The Hokies had five touchdowns and a field goal before Virginia scored its first points, a 29-yard field goal halfway through the third quarter. Motuapuaka and McMillian scored once more each before Benkert hit Olamide Zaccheaus with a 39-yard touchdown pass to make it 52-10 in the fourth.
“It was nice to get the game put away,” Fuente said. “I certainly didn’t expect that going into the game, knowing the records, even when Virginia hadn’t had a great record, the score was always very close, very tight. . . . But it sort of got rolling today in all phases of the game. It was certainly nice to let other guys play. We had a few of those early in the year. It was kind of nice to get back to that.”