No. 25 Virginia Tech blankets Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- No. 25 Virginia Tech was hit hard by injuries to its defense in recent weeks, creating a little bit of anxiety for head coach Justin Fuente as he pondered his team’s chances of extending its lengthy win streak against in-state rival Virginia.
“I was a little worried about it this week, to be honest with you,” Fuente said.
He had no need for concern. His team prepared at a high level and played lights out in a 10-0 win over the Cavaliers on Friday night at Scott Stadium to extend the Hokies’ win streak in the rivalry to an astounding 14 games.
“I knew they were going to step up,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “They were ready.”
Tech dispatched Virginia with a dominating defensive performance and a renewed commitment to running the ball.
The Hokies churned out 202 hard-earned yards on the ground, led by Deshawn McClease (71 yards) and Steven Peoples (71), who returned after missing five of the last six games because of an assortment of injuries.
Virginia Tech scored the game’s only touchdown on an 8-yard pass from Josh Jackson to Chris Cunningham in the third quarter. It was Jackson’s 19th touchdown pass of the season.
The Hokies (9-3, 5-3 ACC) outgained the Cavaliers (6-6, 3-5) 345-191. Despite losing three straight and five of their last six, Virginia has qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2011.
Virginia Tech has qualified for its 25th straight bowl and has a chance at its second straight 10-win season with a bowl victory.
The Hokies sacked Virginia senior quarterback Kurt Benkert four times and held the Cavaliers to five rushing yards in its third shutout of the season. Tech has shut out Virginia three times during its current win streak.
“I think this is probably our best team win of the year,” Hokies defensive tackle Ricky Walker said.
Benkert, playing in the last home game of his career, passed for 186 yards to break the school’s single-season record for passing yards previously held by Matt Schaub.
Benkert, who now has 3,062 yards this season, became the first 3,000-yard passer in school history.
The Cavaliers had their opportunities, particularly in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t come up with a big play when they needed it.
“Their defense played exceptionally well,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “They had us behind the chains for much of the game.”
Penalties hurt the Cavaliers significantly, including a personal foul against senior defensive lineman Andrew Brown that resulted in the player being ejected. Replays showed Brown swinging at a Virginia Tech player and pushing an official.
“That’s not how I want our program to be represented,” Mendenhall said. “I don’t believe in it. I don’t tolerate it. All it does is hurts the team.”
Neither team was particularly sharp on offense in the first half as Virginia Tech took a slim 3-0 lead into the locker room at intermission.
The Hokies got on the scoreboard first on Brian Johnson’s 30-yard field goal with 11:50 remaining in the second quarter.
Johnson filled in for injured starter Joey Slye (hamstring) for the second straight game. Slye is Tech’s all-time leading scorer and is fifth in ACC history with 400 career points.
Virginia’s defense came up with a big play late in the second when cornerback Juan Thornhill jumped Josh Jackson’s pass for his fourth interception of the season.
The Cavaliers drove deep into Hokies’ territory but couldn’t capitalize. Wide receiver Andre Levrone dropped a pass near Tech’s 6-yard line and then kicker A.J. Mejia missed a 42-yard field goal attempt wide right with 27 seconds left in the half.
The teams combined for only six first downs in the first quarter, with Tech outgaining Virginia 84-39.
NOTES: Virginia FS Quin Blanding made his 48th straight start. ... Cavaliers LB Jordan Mack had nine tackles in the first half and passed the 100-tackle threshold for the season. Virginia is the only school in the nation with three players with 100-plus tackles: Mack, Blanding and LB Micah Kiser. ...Hokies CB Adonis Alexander, RB Steven Peoples and WR C.J. Carroll all returned after missing multiple games with injuries. Alexander (hamstring), Peoples (foot) and Carroll (foot) were sidelined two, three and six games, respectively. ... Tech starting LT Yosuah Nijman missed his fourth straight game with a leg injury. Parker Osterloh made his fourth career start in Nijman’s place. ... Tech starting LB Mook Reynolds, WR Sean Savoy and DT Jarrod Hewitt all missed the game with injuries/illnesses. ... With DE Vinny Mihota out for the season (knee) and Hewitt out, DEs Emmanuel Belmar and Houshun Gaines both made their first career starts for the Hokies. ... Hokies FS Khalil Ladler also made his first career start.