Though Old Dominion hung around for three quarters, Virginia Tech handled its business in its season opener on Saturday night in a 36-17 victory in front of a sold-out crowd.
The Hokies (1-0) forced three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — in the second half to create some distance between themselves and the Monarchs (0-1). At the same time, Grant Wells gradually hit his stride, throwing three touchdown passes and rushing for one.
Though the Hokies punted and turned it over on downs on their first two possessions of the ballgame, an ODU special teams miscue handed them the lead. With 4:07 in the first quarter, freshman long snapper Brock Walters fired a snap over the head of punter Ethan Duane that rolled through the back of the end zone for a safety.
On the following drive, Wells hit MTSU transfer Jaylin Lane from 20 yards out for the score, a drive that was set up by a fourth-and-two conversion from Wells and wideout Da’Wain Lofton.
ODU responded with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Grant Wilson to Dominic Dutton, but Tech regained momentum a few minutes later when Wells found ODU transfer Ali Jennings for the 10-yard strike. A 34-yard completion to Lane on third-and-10 helped keep that drive alive.
Tech took a 16-10 lead into the locker room after an Old Dominion field goal that closed the half. And it picked right back up when Georgia Southern transfer Derrick Canteen forced ODU running back Kadarius Calloway to fumble on the opening drive of the third quarter, which was recovered by Nasir Peoples.
Wells & Co. quickly turned that into six points. A 34-yard completion to Norfolk State transfer Da’Quan Felton put them in the red zone, and Wells hit Jennings on a screen for his second touchdown catch of the game.
ODU struck back when Wilson found Keshawn Wicks for a five-yard score, but the Hokies were very efficient in their rally when Wells punched it in from the one. John Love nailed two field goals — from 27 and 21 yards — in the final 15 minutes to give the Hokies a comfortable cushion in their 19-point win.
Other highlights included Peoples’ forced fumble in the third quarter, recovered by Josh Fuga, and Dorian Strong’s interception in the fourth. After creating just 12 miscues last season, Tech had three in 60 minutes against ODU. And after turning the ball over five times in last year’s loss in Norfolk, the Hokies played a clean ballgame on Saturday night with no mistakes.
A number of players had exciting debuts for Virginia Tech, from Florida transfer Antwaun Powell-Ryland (six tackles, two sacks) and Jennings (five catches, 72 yards, two touchdowns) to Lane (four catches, 69 yards, one touchdown), Felton (one catch, 34 yards) and Canteen (one tackle, forced fumble). North Carolina A&T transfer running back Bhayshul Tuten finished with 19 carries for 55 yards.
Tech didn’t opt for its two-quarterback system after first quarter struggles and Wells grew comfortable. He finished 17-for-29 with 251 yards and three scores while running for 27 yards and a touchdown. At one point, he completed nine consecutive throws. He completed a pass to nine different receivers, too.
Up next is Purdue (0-1) on Saturday, Sept. 9 at noon ET from Lane Stadium on ESPN2. The Boilermakers dropped their season opener to Fresno State on Saturday, 39-35.
Tech will be without defensive tackle Pheldarius Payne for the first half of the game after he was ejected for targeting in the third quarter. Jalen Stroman also was ejected for targeting in the first half vs. ODU, though he’ll be available for Purdue.
Box Score: Virginia Tech 36, Old Dominion 17