No. 16 Virginia Tech rallies to bury East Carolina
GREENVILLE, N.C. -- East Carolina threw the first punch.
Virginia Tech absorbed it then delivered a devastating knockout.
Freshman quarterback Josh Jackson threw five touchdown passes and Cam Phillips set a school record with 14 receptions Saturday as No. 16 Virginia Tech rallied from an early 10-point deficit, scoring the final 57 points in a 64-17 victory.
East Carolina scored on its first three possessions, but the Hokies scored on their next nine -- six touchdowns and three field goals -- to send the crowd of 43,776 fans at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium home early.
“The good thing is we didn’t panic,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “I felt like we were ready to play. They hit us on a couple of big plays. ... But it was nice to see our guys respond and not panic and keep playing the game.”
Jackson was particularly poised in bringing the Hokies back, completing 24 of 31 passes for 372 yards and throwing touchdown passes of 45, 31 and 10 yards to Phillips, 70 yards to Travon McMillian and 9 yards to Sean Savoy -- all in the first three quarters.
Phillips had 11 catches for 109 yards by halftime and finished with a career-high 189 yards -- also in three quarters.
“We had some good looks to get him the ball underneath,” Fuente said of Phillips. “He and Josh executed, and then eventually some big plays came a little bit later on.”
The Hokies’ dominance showed up in nearly every category: 34-12 in first downs, 95-61 in total plays, 39:13 to 20:47 in time of possession, 287-40 in rushing yards and 675-281 in total yards. The Pirates (0-3) have surrendered at least 617 yards in all three games this year, and the 675 yards were the third-most given up in school history.
East Carolina second-year coach Scottie Montgomery pointed to an inability to establish a running game as the Pirates’ downfall. They averaged only 1.3 yards on 40 rushing attempts. The Hokies recorded 11 tackles for loss totaling 31 yards and also sacked quarterback Gardner Minshew twice. East Carolina gave up only one sack in the first two games combined.
“Our run game, we didn’t have one,” Montgomery said. “That’s really frustrating in all this. We can’t generate a run game. Offensively, the pass game would be great if we could generate a run game.”
Minshew started in place of Thomas Sirk, who was placed on “concussion protocol” after last Saturday’s loss at West Virginia. Montgomery said Sirk was available but did not want to risk losing him for an extended period.
Without Sirk’s threat to run, Virginia Tech put the heat on Minshew and forced numerous quick throws.
“I thought (defensive coordinator Bud) Foster did a good job of adjusting to us not having a runner at quarterback,” Montgomery said. “I really think he loaded the box.”
Minshew had a hot hand early, hitting six of his first eight passes, including scoring passes of 9 yards to Davon Grayson and 76 yards to Trevon Brown. The throw to Brown was his fourth career touchdown pass of 75 yards or more.
East Carolina gained 213 yards on 19 plays in its first three series but was limited to minus-2 yards on its next five possessions as Tech took control.
The Hokies’ constant pressure on Minshew disrupted the Pirates’ early rhythm. Minshew finished 11 of 30 for 241 yards with one interception.
“First of all, I think when you look at it is we kept them from running the ball and made them one-dimensional, which gives us an upper hand, even though they did hurt us early with some passes,” Fuente said. “But we continued to kind of let our guys pin their ears back a little bit in those long-yardage situations.”
The Hokies (3-0) dug out of their early 10-point hole with a 10-yard pass from Jackson and field goals of 25, 34 and 37 yards by Joey Slye for a 23-17 halftime lead.
Slye’s three first-half field goals raised his career total to 69, eclipsing Shane Graham’s previous school record of 68.
The Hokies then overwhelmed East Carolina with 34 third-quarter points, striking quickly with Jackson passes of 31 yards to McMahon and 70 yards to McMillian. Jackson threw 45 yards to Phillips for the record-breaker after the Hokies blocked a field goal, making it 43-17. Jackson capped his day with a 9-yard pass to Savoy.
Virginia Tech tacked on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jalen Holston and a 5-yard run by Coleman Fox after East Carolina’s second fumble of the second half.
“We played as hard as I’ve seen us play in the first half even when we gave up some of those points we had some stops,” Montgomery said. “You say 57 unanswered. The biggest thing is it was unanswered not that it was 57.”
NOTES: WR Jimmy Williams was scheduled to be one of East Carolina’s four captains but ran to a sideline trash can and threw up for a couple minutes. He was on the field for the first possession and made a 9-yard reception on the game’s second play. ... Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson became the first Virginia Tech quarterback to win his first three starts since Logan Thomas won his first four starts in 2011. ... Hokies junior CB Adonis Alexander was suspended by coach Justin Fuente and sat out Saturday’s game. ... East Carolina lost its second straight against the ACC after winning seven in a row. ... The Hokies are 7-2 when nationally ranked in games against the Pirates. They had lost two of the last three as a ranked team against East Carolina before Saturday. ... The Pirates dropped their first four games to open a season for the first time since 2004. ... Virginia Tech has scored in 286 straight games dating back to the 1995 season, the nation’s fifth-longest streak. East Carolina has scored in 245 consecutive games dating back to 1997, the 11th-longest streak. ... Greenville’s North State Little League team, which won the Southeast Regional title and played in the Little League World Series, was honored at halftime.