Hokies Drive the Field, Beat UNC 22-19

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Dalton Keene scored the winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to put Virginia Tech ahead for the win. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster sat down at the table for the postgame press conference and let out an amused chuckle. His defense had just given up 522 yards, but a win is a win, and Virginia Tech (4-2, 3-0 ACC) survived and outlasted North Carolina (1-4, 1-2 ACC) 22-19 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The Hokies drove 98 yards in 18 plays for the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left for the win.

“You know what, I don’t even worry about the stats,” Foster said. “The only stat that counts is that one on the left column right there. I know this, our kids played extremely hard for 60 minutes.”

Coming into Saturday night’s game against the Tar Heels, Virginia Tech had dominated teams from the state of North Carolina with a record of 7-0 under head coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies win was anything but dominating.

After struggling most of the night and trailing 19-14, Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis marched the Virginia Tech offense 98 yards on 18 plays, setting up the game-winning 1-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Dalton Keene on first and goal with 19 seconds remaining. It was Keene’s only catch of the night.

“I really love this game,” Willis said. “I’m going to say it again. Coach Fuente and coach (Cornelsen) have been on me to take some deep breaths in situations like that. Never get too high, never get too low. Somewhere in the middle, the happy medium. I’m just happy we got the win.”

Prior to the drive, the Hokies had just 277 yards of offense. Willis finished 20-of-36 for 221 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The signal caller was also the team’s leading rusher, totaling 88 yards on 15 attempts and a touchdown.

Ryan Willis was Virginia Tech’s leading rusher by a wide margin, with 88 yards on 15 carries. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

“I think it’s just a great example of sticking with it,” Fuente said. “Our kids, I think they were disappointed that they weren’t playing any better, but they weren’t frustrated. To me, there’s a big difference. They just kept plugging away.

“One of the best things about being a head coach is watching your team celebrate. These kids sacrifice a lot. We see these kids behind closed doors working their tails off. To see them cut loose and celebrate together whether it’s with the fans or in the locker room afterwards, you take that moment selfishly.”

Willis and Co. converted four third downs and one fourth down on the game-winning drive. On a fourth-and-9 from North Carolina’s 40-yard line, Willis kept it himself, picking up 12 yards for the first down.

“That fourth-down play was huge,” Defensive tackle Ricky Walker said. “Ryan has got a little gas on him, a little wheels on him. He made a great play.”

Virginia Tech’s game-winning heroics would not exist without the key defensive stop that the Hokies made on the Tar Heels’ previous possession. After being backed up in at its own 2-yard line, North Carolina’s quarterback Nathan Elliott, who replaced true freshman starter Cade Fortin, completed an 80-yard pass on third-and-15 to Carl Tucker. Reggie Floyd and Jovonn Quillen gave pursuit, causing Tucker to cut inside and eventually be brought down by Quillen at the Tech 13 yard line.

“It’s just our kids chasing the ball and you never know,” Foster said. “It’s been proven over, over, and over again that if you give great effort, you can make a touchdown-saving tackle. That can be the difference in the football game and it was, when it’s all said and done. That’s as critical as a play, just like (Floyd’s) play last year against Pitt. Just guys giving themselves to their teammate, and they did that tonight.”

Looking to take a two possession lead, the Tar Heels later had a first-and-goal at Virginia Tech’s 1. Michael Carter, who finished with 18 carries for 165 yards, was mere inches from inflicting the knockout punch against the Hokies with 6:13 left in the game. Instead, backup safety Tyree Rodgers delivered the blow, putting his helmet right on the football and popping it up in the air for a forced fumble. Quillen recovered at the 2-yard line, setting the scene for the offense to go win the game.

“We called an all-out blitz and Tyree had the tight end,” Foster said. “He did a great job of fitting. I’m anxious to see the film. I’m sure he put his hat right on football. I was just glad he didn’t cross the plane when it’s all said and done.”

“I saw a big wad of people, a big collision, and what I thought was a helmet go up in the air,” Fuente said. “Then I realized pretty quickly it was the ball.”

North Carolina controlled the game for the majority of the night. The Tar Heels ended up outgaining Virginia Tech in total yardage 522-375. Despite allowing five plays of 40+ yards, the Hokies defense stood strong when needed and forced six North Carolina field goal attempts. The Tar Heels lived on the Hokies’ side of the field at times, but only found pay dirt once.

“Every week is going to be a four hour stomach ache,” Fuente said. “That’s where we’re at.

“I thought just in general terms, our red zone defense is what gave us a chance. However many times it was that they were down there, and we held them to field goal opportunities.”

Virginia Tech improves to 3-0 in the ACC, with all three wins coming on the road. After Miami fell to Virginia 16-13 on Saturday night, the Hokies are in the driver’s seat, holding sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division.


  • Virginia Tech has an off week upcoming before it welcomes Georgia Tech to Lane Stadium for a Thursday night bout on October 25. The Yellow Jackets have been a thorn in Fuente’s side as he is 0-2 against Paul Johnson and Co.

— hokiesports.com box score —


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26 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Thank goodness that their receivers did not catch some of those balls that went to wide open receivers, and that their qb did not make better throws in the first half and third quarter or we would have been behind by 20 or more points at the half. What a drive by our guys at the end of the game. I was on the edge of my chair on each play. Thank goodness for a great hit on the goal line to knock the ball loose.

  2. Gee, that throw to the TE worked. I wonder if we could do more of that?

    (Just stirring the pot . . . and bringing to a new generation the time immemorial controversy.)

  3. Best last minute win I have seen since Nebraska. TT to Coale and then TT to Roberts with Suh in pursuit.

    This drive down 98 yds and a 4th down QB run to get the first. All to be completed by what looked like the easiest pitch and catch for a 1 yd TD. Unbelievable!!! And completed with a Fuente tackle on Bud; can we get a video of that??

    Unfortunately, those 2 games have aged me and my heart is having problems. Can we just get a rout on GT and be up a Begillion to none at the half so I can breathe for at least half a game.

  4. When I saw Q Patterson in I started thinking that they are close to pulling the redshirt if we had lost this game. Willis may have given himself another week with his performance on tha last drive. But the rest of the game was the first time I had seen him play badly over multiple series. I wonder if Patterson gets the #2 QB reps now and Hooker is out.

    1. It was preplanned to play QP, as 1 of the 4 games allowed in the redshirt rule. Hooker is and will be the backup.

      1. Why in the world would they burn a game for just 3 plays? Wish we could have seen a little more of him. Willis was wildly inaccurate most of the game but put together one hell of a drive when it matter most. Unfortunately, we aren’t playing UNC or Duke every week and we need more consistency. Hope he improves timing during the bye week with more first team reps because we are entering a tough stretch and do not want the UVA streak to end!!!!

  5. Just wanna say: that was a superbly written story by Cory Van Dyke. Really captured the essence of the game, the key moments, the emotion, all very efficiently. Good job!

  6. I don’t understand the “big play” defense laps. For some reason, VT is really vulnerable. Perhaps we should just give the other team the ball at our twenty yard line every time … that way we seem to do better. It’s a heart burn to see plays of 40, 50, 80, 90+ yards every game. And the announcers go on and on about how great Coach Foster is. I acknowledge his long and distinguished service, but … “com-on!”

    1. A couple of them, it appeared to me that Diablo just isn’t at full speed and he wasn’t getting to the ball on time. He looks hurt.

      1. Agree he looked hurt from the get go. Please rest him up and with the GT offense is he required? Can Tyree play in his place in that game? GT won’t be tossing the ball around. I think we need Deablo in passing defense; but he definitely looked gimpy and we do need him healthy.

      2. Agreed. The announcers mentioned that he seemed to be limping a bit. I know he is a terrific athlete, but it seems likely that another, uninjured player would be a bit better at keeping up with the receivers. He is sacrificing his body for the team, I get it, but he can also hurt the team if he is playing at 90%.

        And by the way, I noticed Farley is getting better. His speed and athleticism will be a real asset to the team as he gains experience. His pass rejections in the end zone were amazing. I’m betting he will be All ACC in another season.

        I think Peoples is a heckuva player. I was wondering what he could do behind UNC’s O-Line.

        Hazelton was a mixed bag last night. Dropped a few that might have made a big difference for us early on. But he had some good plays as well. Glad he’s on our side! A number of our receiving corps had some hurtful drops.

        Willis did good overall. He’s a better runner than I thought he was. Tries a few throws that he shouldn’t .

    2. Foster is THE best DC out there. Who would you rather have? He lost 9 starters and is playing with a lot of young kids. Plus he doesn’t have a stable of 5* kids to start with. His scheme is a high risk high reward defense. COME ON.

      1. Just wish he were a better recruiter and had more in the Pipeline. A top coach could have easily seen the early departures NFL and otherwise.

        1. Not even Saben would have been able to see that 3 defensive players would leave early AND 3 more would leave due to disciplinary or legal reasons. Could anyone have predicted those 6 departures 2 years ago? Not even Carnac The Great could predict that. Oh I forgot AND a start breaks his foot the first day of August practice; so that makes 7 unexpected defensive departures.

      2. Bud plays a 6 man spread line and the safeties don’t have any support help, the play up.

        I don’t know why he doesn’t change it up to help out his secondary. They are very young in experience in the secondary and line backer.
        So far are best defensive game was against Duke when we played a 3 man front and a 8 man back. I realize that it can’t always be used but be a little more creative to help out the defense.
        Yes, we did play well on D against ND except for those 2 plays that cost us big time.

        My concern is also the offense, what happened to our O Line?

        Also, Willis is a stop gap, you can see why JJ was the starter even though he’s become slow in decision making and slow of foot.

        I hope they all improve and Willis starts to make the right throws and not only look to Hazelton especially when he’s double teamed. He’s got the physical skill set.

        Go Hokies!

  7. i don’t think I have ever seen a Tech defense allow receivers to be more open than UNC’s were last night. However, this team has more grit and drive on both sides of the ball than most any I have ever seen. The hit on the one that saved a game ending TD was crisp and at full speed. You’ve got to admit, this season has been exciting and it is only really beginning. Can you believe we are on the top of the division?. There is a long road ahead but as in golf, only the score counts, not how you made it.. Go Hokies! Win games!!!

  8. Have always hated the Hokie Pokie… think it’s stupid… it was not done when I attended VT… BUT I was doin’ it last night in my family room. 😳🤣🤪😋

  9. A win is a win. It wasn’t pretty and I’m sure there are more struggles ahead this season. However, VT of sitting at the top of the ACC costal with 4 of their last 5 at home. I’m looking forward to watching this team play with continued grit and grind through the rest of the season.

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