Va. Tech dom­i­nates early, en­sures 26th con­sec­u­tive year with jour­ney to bowl

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By Norm Wood Staff writer

BLACKS­BURG — An­other des­per­ate game for Vir­ginia Tech to try to get to six wins and a bowl, an­other joy­ous con­clu­sion in Blacks­burg. This time, the out­come was never in doubt.

Quar­ter­back Ryan Wil­lis com­pleted 18 of 26 passes for 312 yards and four touch­downs Satur­day in Tech’s 41-20 vic­tory against Mar­shall to help en­sure the Hok­ies (6-6) will be bowl el­i­gi­ble for a na­tion­lead­ing 26th con­sec­u­tive season. Tech’s bowl des­ti­na­tion and op­po­nent will be re­vealed Sun­day.

“We didn’t win nine or 10 or 11 foot­ball games this year, but this might be a year that may be one of your more re­ward­ing ones be­cause of what you’ve had to over­come,” said Tech de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bud Fos­ter, who rou­tinely dropped eight play­ers into cov­er­age Satur­day while rush­ing just three play­ers. “The hard work you had to put in and to lead and to fight and just keep com­ing to work ev­ery day when peo­ple were doubt­ing you, that’s not al­ways an easy thing to do. I thought our kids did a great job re­spond­ing.”

Over the last seven sea­sons, Tech has grown ac­cus­tomed to need­ing to get a sixth win in the reg­u­lar-season fi­nale to be­come bowl-el­i­gi­ble. Tech is 4-0 in such sce­nar­ios, but it had to churn out close wins against Vir­ginia in the pre­vi­ous three games, beat­ing U.Va. 17-14 in 2012, 24-20 in ’14 and 23-20 in ’15.

Af­ter Tech built a 31-6 half­time lead against Mar­shall, none of the late-game high pres­sure of the pre­vi­ous three quests for six wins was present in Satur­day’s af­fair.

“We kind of are who we are,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said re­gard­ing when he knew his team was emo­tion­ally on track head­ing into Satur­day’s game af­ter win­ning 34-31 in over­time Nov. 23 against Vir­ginia. “There’s a lot of im­per­fec­tions out there on the field, but as far as be­ing emo­tion­ally ready to play, I didn’t have any ques­tions.”

While Tech’s fi­nal 454-452 yardage edge might have in­di­cated a closer con­test than the fi­nal score re­flected, the Hok­ies pulled away in the first half while keep­ing the Thun­der­ing Herd from scor­ing on eight of Mar­shall’s first 10 drives.

Tech’s de­fense bent early, giv­ing up yards on the ground to Bren­den Knox (27 car­ries for 204 yards and two touch­downs for the game), but the Hok­ies kept the Thun­der­ing Herd from cash­ing in. Mar­shall (8-4) had few an­swers early on for the pass­ing of Wil­lis, who com­pleted 12 of 16 for 254 yards and four touch­downs in the open­ing 30 min­utes.

De­fen­sive tackle Ricky Walker, a Bethel High grad­u­ate, made a state­ment for Tech’s de­fense, which was led by mid­dle line­backer Rayshard Ashby’s 15 tack­les, on the game’s first play from scrim­mage in a heavy fog that lin­gered through much of the first half. Walker got to red­shirt fresh­man quar­ter­back Isa­iah Green, forc­ing a fum­ble that was re­cov­ered at Mar­shall’s 17-yard line by de­fen­sive end TyJuan Gar­butt.

“I ended up beat­ing the cen­ter around the edge and ended up get­ting the ball out,” Walker said. “I think that set the tone. Guys were ex­cited, and from then on, we just played Hokie ball.”

Tech set­tled for a 32-yard field goal from Brian John­son with 13:49 left in the first quar­ter to open the scor­ing. Mar­shall was far more suc­cess­ful on its next pos­ses­sion, con­vert­ing two third downs as it drove from its own 25 to Tech’s 9.

Be­fore Mar­shall could cap the drive with points, cor­ner­back Bryce Watts put an end to it, in­ter­cept­ing a Green pass in the back of the end zone. It was Tech’s first in­ter­cep­tion since Oct. 6 against Notre Dame.

Wil­lis and re­ceiver Hezekiah Grim­s­ley, a Lafayette High alum, made sure Tech took ad­van­tage of Watts’ in­ter­cep­tion.

On third-and-5 from Tech’s 41, Wil­lis found Grim­s­ley along the side­line for an 18-yard pass play, be­fore the duo con­nected again two plays later with 5:20 left in the first quar­ter on a slant pat­tern that went for a 46-yard touch­down.

About 3½ min­utes later, Knox moved Mar­shall within strik­ing dis­tance of Tech’s goal line again with a 67-yard run. Watts made a touch­down-sav­ing tackle at the Hok­ies’ 3, but Knox fin­ished the drive three plays later with a 2-yard touch­down run on the fi­nal play of the first quar­ter, trim­ming Tech’s ad­van­tage to 10-6. Justin Rohrwasser missed the extra point.

Wil­lis’ pass­ing kicked Tech’s of­fense into overdrive in the sec­ond quar­ter. Tech’s 21 points in the sec­ond quar­ter marked just the sec­ond time in its last 23 games against Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion op­po­nents that the Hok­ies scored more than 14 points in a quar­ter.

With 13:45 left in the sec­ond quar­ter, Wil­lis sidestepped a rush and lofted a per­fect pass to re­ceiver Tre Turner for a 45-yard touch­down to ex­tend the Hok­ies’ lead to 17-6.

Later in the quar­ter, with Tech still lead­ing 17-6, run­ning back De­shawn McClease turned a short screen pass from Wil­lis into a 54-yard gain to Mar­shall’s 13 with help from an ef­fec­tive down­field block by re­ceiver Eric Kumah. Wil­lis made sure McClease’s work to get inside the red zone paid off, hit­ting run­ning back Steven Peo­ples three plays later on a 7-yard touch­down pass with 4:10 left to put Tech up 24-6.

Wil­lis wasn’t done yet in the sec­ond quar­ter. He punc­tu­ated his 191-yard pass­ing quar­ter with 1:12 left by find­ing Kumah up Mar­shall’s side­line for a 32-yard touch­down catch, giv­ing Tech a 31-6 cush­ion.

With his 20th touch­down pass, Wil­lis is just the sixth quar­ter­back in Tech his­tory to have 20 or more touch­down passes in one season. They in­clude Josh Jack­son (20 last season) and Jerod Evans (29 in 2016).

De­spite get­ting in the end zone on two of its fi­nal three pos­ses­sions in the fourth quar­ter, Mar­shall was un­able to get within three TDs in the sec­ond half.

“I’m re­lieved,” Wil­lis said about Tech get­ting bowl-el­i­gi­ble. “This season, we faced tons of ad­ver­sity — peo­ple quit­ting, not do­ing right, get­ting hurt. We’ve got a very re­silient group of guys in the locker room.” Norm Wood, 757-247-4642, [email protected]­ly­press.com


De­fen­sive line­man Zion DeBose (35) and run­ning back De­shawn McClease, right, cel­e­brate Satur­day with the Corps of Cadets af­ter Vir­ginia Tech rolled past Mar­shall.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.