Jackson lifts No. 21 Va. Tech past No. 22 WVU
LANDOVER, Md. — After a 12-year hiatus, the once-fierce Virginia Tech-West Virginia rivalry needed little time to regain its intensity.
The 21st-ranked Hokies outlasted the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers 31-24 Sunday night at FedEx Field in a back-and-forth contest worthy of the battles these two teams once waged.
“We just fought throughout the game,” Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds said. “We knew this game wasn’t going to be a blowout. We knew it was going to be a dogfight throughout it all.”
Both teams debuted new starting quarterbacks. Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson got the better of Will Grier despite a gaudy stat line from the Mountaineers’ new starter.
Jackson, a redshirt freshman, completed 15 of 26 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown in his first college game. The first freshman to start an opener for the Hokies since Michael Vick in 1999, Jackson also rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
“I just try to do the best I can with what I’ve got and give what the team needs, and that’s about it,” Jackson said.
Hokies senior wide receiver Cam Phillips had seven catches for 138 yards, highlighted by a 32-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
Jackson passed for 22 yards and rushed for 58 — including a gain of 46 — during the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter. Jackson’s long scamper set up tailback Travon McMillian’s 3-yard touchdown run that broke a 24-24 tie with 6:30 remaining.
It took a late defensive stand for the Hokies to hold off the Mountaineers. West Virginia receiver David Sills V dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone with seconds remaining.
“Unfortunately we came up a little short,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We had a chance to win all the way until the end. Our guys fought hard.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said, “By the end, you just wanted to hold on for one more. Obviously, we would have liked to have a two-score (difference) there in the end, but we didn’t.”
Virginia Tech (1-0) won for the first time in four tries at FedEx Field. It was the Hokies’ first-ever win over a ranked opponent in a season opener.
“By no means did it mean we didn’t make a play at the end. We just ran out of time,” Holgorsen said.
Grier, making his first start for the Mountaineers (0-1) since transferring from Florida, completed 31 of 53 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Two of Grier’s touchdown passes went to Sills, who finished with nine receptions for 94 yards. The other was caught by junior wideout Gary Jennings, who set career highs in both catches (13) and yards (189).
“The quarterback was good. You could tell he was an experienced guy,” Edmunds said of Grier, who started five games for Florida last season. “He was out there controlling the game, and the receivers made some big-time catches. We also made some big-time stops.”
Jennings’ 60-yard catch and run with 12:37 remaining tied the score at 24.
“I told our guys, ‘Don’t hang your head. I’m proud of what we did. Let it motivate you to get better,’” Holgorsen said.
Virginia Tech ended a sloppy offensive first half with a promising touchdown drive and took a 10-7 lead into halftime.
Jackson was a perfect 3-for-3 for 40 yards on the go-ahead possession. He finished off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Grier overcame some early struggles to orchestrate an impressive touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Grier completed all four of his pass attempts for 35 yards during the possession and connected with Sills on an 11-yard touchdown reception to give the Mountaineers a 7-3 lead with 5:37 remaining before halftime.
The Hokies were held out of the end zone for most of the first half. Before Jackson’s scoring run late in the second quarter, Virginia Tech’s only points came on a 25-yard field goal by Joey Slye in the first quarter.
Before Slye’s field goal, the Hokies had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line but squandered the prime scoring opportunity with a negative-yardage run and a false start on consecutive plays.
NOTES: Sunday marked only the fourth time in 52 meetings that Virginia Tech and West Virginia were both ranked in the AP Top 25. ... The Hokies have scored in 284 consecutive games, the seventh-longest streak in Division I history and the fifth-longest active streak. ... In his first career start, Virginia Tech sophomore DT Tim Settle recorded his first career sack in the first quarter. ... The Hokies were 0-for-7 on third down before converting two third-and-10s during their second-quarter touchdown drive. ... Virginia Tech and West Virginia are scheduled to play again in 2021 in Morgantown, W. Va., and 2022 in Blacksburg, Va.