Hokies hold off Mountaineers in season opener
LANDOVER, Maryland — When Virginia Tech needed it the most the Hokies’ defense delivered.
The Hokies fought off a last-minute drive by West Virginia University on Sunday night for a thrilling 31-24 football victory at FedEx Field.
“I thought it was a well-played football game for both teams,” Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente said. “…I thought a bunch of people across the board contributed to this victory. When I look at it, obviously our coaching staff, when I think about the individual players, I think about guys on our special teams doing their jobs and guys on offense and defense contributing and finding a way to win the ball game.”
The Mountaineers drove the ball to the Virginia Tech 15-yard line in the final seconds of the game.
WVU quarterback Will Grier, who transferred from the University of Florida, guided the team 65 yards on 14 plays, including a 9-yard run on a fourth-and-5 play.
With nine seconds left, Grier’s pass intended for wide receiver David Sills was incomplete. Virginia Tech defensive end Trevon Hill hurried the throw with his pass rush.
On the final play of the game, Grier’s attempted pass to Gary Jennings Jr. fell incomplete to preserve the Hokies’ victory.
“We just took a deep breath and said we got to blow off these last couple seconds of the game and be determined to win,” Hill said of the last drive. “I feel like we put it all out there on the field.”
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said that he was happy with the final drive, except for the ending.
“We ran out of time,” Holgorsen said. “… (Grier) did a great job of showing us that he’s a ball player. He never panicked, he kept things alive, he did a great job. And we had an opportunity to get it done. We just came up a little bit short. That’s a pretty good defense we weer going against too.”
After a slow start to the game, both offenses picked it up in the second half.
The Mountaineers tied the game at 10-10 with a 34-yard field goal by Mike Molina with 11:25 left in the third quarter.
The Hokies came right back with a four-play, 71-yard drive. Virginia Tech redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson connected with tight end Chris Cunningham for a 39-yard completion. The play set-up running back DeShawn McCleese’s 12-yard touchdown run to give the Hokies a 17-10 edge.
“He played really well tonight on a big stage against a tough, hard-nosed football team,” Fuente said of Jackson. “I was awfully proud, probably more than proud, I was happy for him. Because he’s worked awfully hard and he found a way to be really efficient tonight.”
Two possessions later the Mountaineers tied the game at 17-17. The Mountaineers went 79 yards on eight plays. The biggest play of the drive was a 24-yard completion from Grier to Jennings.
Grier finished off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to David Sills with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
Once again the Hokies responded. Virginia Tech’s James Clark returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards. A 15-yard penalty was tacked on to move the ball to the WVU 32.
Jackson then connected with Cam Phillips for a 32-yard touchdown pass to give the Hokies a 24-17 lead with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
“We joke and laugh and on the field we communicate with each other in every series to see what (the other is) doing and what to expect,” Phillips said of his chemistry with Jackson. “And you know we were on it (Sunday).”
The Mountaineers tied the game early in the final quarter. Grier connected with Jennings for a 60-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24-24 with 12:37 left in the game.
Two possessions later the Hokies answered with the game-winning drive. Jackson playing in his first collegiate game made the biggest play of the drive with his legs.
Jackson ran 46 yards on a read-option play to move the ball to the WVU 2-yard line. Travon McMillian capped it off with a 3-yard run for a 31-24 lead with 6:30 left.
“In that look they blitzed and we changed the read call to that guy that was the blitzer,” Jackson said of his big run. “He was too wide. So I just kept it, ran up the middle and there was a huge hole.”
The Hokies had a chance to put the game out of reach on their next possession, but kicker Joey Slye missed a 32-yard field goal to keep the Mountaineers’ hopes alive.
Sherando graduate and Virginia Tech true freshman linebacker Dylan Rivers made the traveling roster for the game, but did not see any action in the victory.
Grier was 31-for-53 passing for 371 yards. Jennings had 13 catches for 189 yards for the Mountaineers.
WVU’s running game was led by Justin Crawford with 106 yards on 13 carries.
Jackson ran for 106 yards on 11 carries, while McClease had 51 yards on eight carries.
Jackson also threw for 235 yards on 15-for-26 passing. Phillips finished with seven receptions for 138 yards.
“It was definitely a big win,” Hill said. “They won 10 games last year. We won 10 games (last year). It was definitely a big win, but it’s the first game. We got hopefully 14 more to go.”