DURHAM, N.C. — It was supposed to be Virginia Tech’s final cakewalk before a much-needed bye week, a trip to lowly Duke where the maroon-and-orange-clad fans would outnumber those cheering on the home team. But the Hokies got a lot more than they bargained for Saturday.
In its worst performance in a win this season, No. 15 Virginia Tech needed two dramatic fourth-down stops to escape with a 14-10 victory over the Blue Devils in a game that could have easily resulted in Duke’s first win over a ranked opponent since 1994.
The Blue Devils had five drives in which they could have taken the lead after halftime, including one that began on the Virginia Tech 34-yard line late in the fourth quarter. But with Duke facing fourth and two inside the Hokies 25-yard line with less than five minutes remaining, cornerback Kyle Fuller knocked down the receiver Duke quarterback Sean Renfree wanted to throw to (running back Juwan Thompson) and made a spectacular open-field tackle as Renfree tried to scramble for the first down.
The Blue Devils got one more chance in the final two minutes, but cornerback Cris Hill tipped a fourth-down pass by Renfree and linebacker Barquell Rivers ended up with an interception to avoid a shocking upset that would have altered the ACC’s Coastal Division race.
After the game, the Hokies tried to put their closer-than-expected win into perspective, hopeful that an ugly afternoon of football will spur improvement before their next game, a Nov. 10 showdown at Georgia Tech.
“If we would’ve came up here and blew them out and then we have a bye week, I have the fear that some of my teammates would get relaxed,” said running back David Wilson, who finished with 148 yards rushing on 23 carries. “But now that we came close to a team we thought was gonna have lower competition, so to speak, going into a bye week and then coming into Georgia Tech, we know we’re gonna be working hard this week.”
During his postgame chat with reporters, Wilson accused Duke’s defenders of some questionable bottom-of-the-pile tactics after halftime. “Just dirty stuff,” he said when asked to elaborate. “Pinching, punching, reaching through the face mask, grabbing my [groin].”
Though Virginia Tech’s offense gained more than 400 yards for a fourth straight game, the Hokies mustered just 132 yards in the second half and were held scoreless after running back Josh Oglesby rumbled into the end zone from one yard out with more than 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Quarterback Logan Thomas completed 17 of 28 passes for 190 yards and had a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Martin in the first quarter. But he also threw two interceptions, both of which came in the immediate aftermath of Duke turnovers.
After safety Eddie Whitley intercepted Renfree on the fourth play of the game, Thomas returned the favor when he threw into double coverage and was picked off by Duke safety Matt Daniels near the goal line, ending a streak of 119 consecutive passes without an interception. In the second quarter, Hill snagged his first career interception and set the Hokies up on the Duke 25-yard-line, but Thomas threw another end-zone interception to Daniels on the ensuing first down.
On Virginia Tech’s next drive, place kicker Tyler Weiss pushed a 29-yard field goal wide right. Weiss, a senior transfer from Murray State who hadn’t attempted a field goal since 2007, was forced into action because starter Cody Journellaggravated a quad injury late in the week.
“We just didn’t take advantage of some opportunities, and when you do, the game gets different,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “We didn’t and it stayed tight.”
Virginia Tech’s saving grace may have been Duke place kicker Will Snyderwine (Landon), who missed three field goals. After hitting a 26-yard field goal on the Blue Devils’ opening drive after halftime, he hit the right upright on a 29-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter.
It paved the way for a defense that refused to give up a slim lead, highlighted by Fuller’s huge fourth-down stop. “ I didn’t expect it to come down to a game like this,” the sophomore said afterward.
Neither did Beamer. But now that the Hokies head into their bye week as the lone Coastal Division team with just one conference loss, the coach could smile as he talked about how fruitful this near-disaster could be in the future.
“Every week is not just gonna be magnificent. This week certainly wasn’t magnificent for us,” Beamer said. “But sometimes when you can get through a game when it wasn’t so good and get a win, that’s big in the big picture.”