BLACKSBURG, Va. – Things couldn’t have started better for Duke at Virginia Tech.
Once the Hokies turned the tide against the Blue Devils, things could hardly have gone worse.
Virginia Tech scored 41 unanswered points after Duke bolted to a 20-point lead in the first 12 minutes, prompting Duke coach David Cutcliffe to sound a popular refrain about games gone awry after his team finally fell, 41-20, to the Hokies.
“Games don’t end at the end of the first quarter,” he said.
Two interceptions late in the second quarter led to 10 points for the Hokies (4-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). The second interception came with 25 seconds to play and led to a too-easy, one-play touchdown drive.
“Obviously that was a big shift in momentum going into the half,” Duke quarterback Sean Renfree said of Detrick Bonner’s interception deep in Hokies territory and 39-yard return to the Blue Devils’ 42-yard line. On the next play, Logan Thomas found Marcus Davis wide open for a touchdown to make it 20-17.
Renfree also was picked off earlier by Michael Cole at the Hokies 12. He returned it to the 20, starting a 60-yard drive.
“We were firing on all cylinders. Everybody was making great plays,” Duke guard Dave Harding said. “But we knew they were going to fight back.”
The Hokies did so with their most complete performance of the season.
Thomas threw two touchdown passes, J.C Coleman ran for 183 yards and two long touchdowns, and the Hokies outgained Duke 525-329.
Duke (5-2, 2-1) arrived seeking one more victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and had 150 yards and a 20-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. But it managed just 84 yards during the next two quarters, and the game did more for the Hokies’ expectations going forward than their own. Virginia Tech also recovered two fumbles and sacked Renfree five times.
Thomas and Co., meanwhile, fell into their best rhythm of the season. Thomas hit Marcus Davis with touchdown passes of 42 and 47 yards, and hit Davis with a 40-yarder to set up another touchdown. Martin Scales scored that one on a 4-yard run, and J.C. Coleman later broke free for a 45-yard touchdown run.
Coleman’s touchdown gave the Hokies their first lead at 24-20, and the freshman added an 86-yard burst around the right side midway through the fourth quarter. His yardage came on just 13 carries.
Davis had five receptions for 144 yards.
It was the Hokies’ most complete performance of the season, one that gives them hope following a mediocre start to the season and with a brutal stretch of games about to begin. They play at Clemson on Saturday and then have back-to-back Thursday night games – at Miami and home against Florida State.
The Blue Devils are 1-40 since 2004 against the teams remaining on their schedule and need to beat North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech or Miami to secure their bowl eligibilty.
At the start, it looked like Duke might find that victory in Lane Stadium.
After making two first downs, Renfree sent Jamison Crowder deep in one-on-one coverage with Kyle Fuller, and Crowder caught a perfect ball over his shoulder as Fuller fell down for a 62-yard touchdown. The drive took just 2:44.
The Blue Devils followed a three-and-out by the Hokies with a drive to Ross Martin’s 40-yard field goal, a march aided by a 21-yard pass interference call against Detrick Bonner and a 15-yard personal foul call against Derrick Hopkins on the same play. Marti added a 28-yard field goal set up by Anthony Boone’s 39-yard pass to Vernon, and the wheels really came off for the bumbling Hokies two plays later.
Thomas threw a swing pass from his 23 to tailback Tony Gregory, who juggled the ball, allowing Blue Devils safety Jordon Byas to snatch it out of the air and take it 20 yards untouched for the touchdown. After just 11:48, Duke led 20-0, and a near sellout crowd sat in stunned silence.
The Hokies’ first touchdown came on the next drive, a 76-yard march highlighted by Thomas’ 40-yard pass to Davis to the Blue Devils’ 4. Scales took it around the left side on the next play.
The Hokies then received two big plays from their maligned defense to keep the comeback going.
Bonner’s interception and 39-yard return late in the first half set up Thomas’ 42-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Davis 0:19 before halftime. That pulled Virginia Tech to within 20-17 at halftime.
Earlier, Michael Cole intercepted Renfree’s overthrow deep in Hokies territory and returned it to the 20. Eleven plays later, Cody Journell’s 37-yard field goal cut Duke’s lead to 20-10.
Journell added a 41-yard field goal late in the third quarter.