With 30 minutes left to play Saturday night, Virginia Tech was leading the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes by 14 points and was within sight of the first road win in program history over a top-eight program.
With 15 minutes left to play, the lead was cut to seven; three minutes later it disappeared completely.
Not rattled by the change in momentum or by the largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history, Michael Brewer, the poised first-year Tech quarterback, orchestrated a drive midway through the 4th quarter.
Two minutes and 56 seconds after taking possession in the tied ballgame, Brewer silenced the revitalized Horshoe, connecting with tight end Bucky Hodges in the corner of the end zone to retake the lead for Tech with 8:44 left.
The touchdown extended the Hokies’ lead to seven, and they eventually won 35-21.
“We talked all week, you got to be able to ride the waves,” Brewer said. “Don’t get to high, don’t get too low because whoever can stay level-headed and just keep plugging away consistently throughout the game was going to win this game, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Hodges was flagged for an excessive celebration penalty for celebrating with what he called the “shmoney dance”, putting the then-seven point lead in jeopardy by giving Ohio State excellent field position on the ensuing kickoff.
“He’s got an appointment with me Wednesday morning at 6 a.m.,” Frank Beamer said about Hodges’ punishment for the penalty. “We’ll check his dance moves out then.”
Ohio State’s redshirt freshman quarter J.T. Barrett was trying to stage dramatic drive of his own in the final minutes, but when Barrett was forced to hurry a throw for what seemed like the hundredth time on the night, his bail sailed into the arms of cornerback Donovan Riley. Riley returned it 63 yards to the end zone for the exclamation point on the upset victory.
“I wanted to be the dagger in their heart,” Riley said.
Brewer’s controlled confidence that led Tech on that final drive was a shock to no one watching. The Texas Tech graduate, despite being under constant pressure from a Ohio State defensive line that had its way most of the night with the Tech front five, was 23-for-36 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
He led an offense that converted on nine of its 17 third downs, including its first five, and twice converted a pair of 10-plus yard third-down situations when throwing from inside his own end zone. He connected with seven different receivers, including six of them multiple times.
“I like that guy. I really like that guy,” Beamer said of Brewer. “He does a lot of good things out there. I think he’s a confidence builder for our whole football team, just the way he handles himself and gets us in good plays. He’s a confidence builder.”
After not being sacked once all game a week ago against William & Mary, Brewer took several shots, both in the backfield and down the field gaining positive yards.
After walking into the postgame press conferences a little bit gimpy, Brewer admitted “just about everything” was sore.
The toughness is a trait his teammates praise, though.
True freshman running back Marshawn Williams, who gained 28 yards and scored from 14 yards out, endearingly called his quarterback “a dude.”
The Hokies used nine rushers to gain 165 yards on the ground.
Realizing they were going to be unable to power the ball into the Buckeyes’ defensive line, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler orchestrated an offense that used plenty of variation – including wildcat, jet sweeps and reverses – to move the ball any way they could. It was successful for 320 yards and 35 points.
For all the pressure that Brewer was under though, he may be thankful he wasn’t the Buckeyes’ quarterback.
In the tough spot of relying on four offensive lineman making their second start to block Bud Foster’s relentless defense, Barrett was fleeing the hot Tech pursuit all night.
The Hokies dispersed seven sacks amongst six players, and rarely took a play off from sending more rushers than Ohio State could block. Barrett connected on nine of his 29 passing attempts and threw three interceptions.
Several times, especially earlier in the contest, Barrett was able to break containment on the blitzes and earn yardage in chunks, but that didn’t stop the Hokies from going after the quarterback.
On Ohio State’s first scoring drive, Barrett rushed for 61 yards, including two 20-plus yard pick-ups.
“That’s frustrating, but that’s just part of the game,” linebacker Chase Williams said.
“You got a guy like that that’s such a great athlete, he can make plays with his feet, but we did a pretty solid job for the most part.”
“The goal was to shut down the run, and anytime they showed pass we added it.”
Even when the Hokies led by 14 in the second half, they never stopped.
“A lot of people, when they get up, they want to get into a prevent (defense) and keep people in front of you,” Beamer said. “We don’t do that. We try to keep getting after you and keep the heat on.”
After the Hokies took a 21-7 half time lead, the Buckeyes’ comeback started with a missed tackle by cornerback Brandon Facyson alone on an island, which allowed receiver Michael Thomas to score from 53 yards out with 3:01 to go in the third. Six minutes later Ezekiel Elliot scored on a speed option, but in the final drives when Tech needed stops most, the defense responded.
For the first time since 1982, a nonconference unranked team beat the Buckeyes at their place.
“This whole time, people are saying Virginia Tech needs to get back from where they’ve been,” Brewer said, “and how are they going to do that. But behind closed doors we’re all about just taking it one day at a time, and if we do that and prepare like we’re supposed to and play like we’re supposed to, we have a chance to win every game we’re in. And if we do that, I think everybody will be pretty satisfied with that.”
The Hokies return to action next Saturday, hosting East Carolina at noon at Lane Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN.