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Virginia Tech bounces back to beat Duke after disastrous first quarter

College FootballFootballDuke Blue DevilsAtlantic Coast ConferenceVirginia TechVirginia Tech Hokies

For the first time all season, Logan Thomas stood in front of his team Thursday and addressed Virginia Tech's recurring first quarter nightmare.

He'd never talked about it with all of his teammates gathered together. His timing couldn't have been any more prescient, given the way Tech bumbled through the first quarter Saturday in its 41-20 win against Duke.

Tech (4-3 overall, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) overcame a 20-0 first-quarter deficit to get the much-needed victory, marking the most points the Hokies have ever fallen behind by and still come back to win in Coach Frank Beamer's 26-year tenure. It surpassed the 17-point deficit Tech overcame in 2010 to get a win at North Carolina State.

"It happens to somebody every week, and every week somebody battles right on back," Thomas said regarding his message to the team this week after practice about falling behind early.

"I just wanted to let them know that, 'Hey, no matter what happens, I'm going to still play my tail off. I'm still going to go out there and lay it on the line for you all. I expect you all to do it for me because we are Virginia Tech. This is how we play. We play hard every single game, every single play.' "

Tech relied on true freshman J.C. Coleman and a determined defense to make sure Duke (5-2, 2-1) wouldn't reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994 with what would've been its first win against Tech in 12 tries since '82. Coleman ran 13 times for 183 yards, the most rushing yards for a freshman under Beamer.

"It felt real good," said Coleman, a graduate of Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake who had 159 of his yards and touchdown runs of 45 and 86 yards in the second half. "It kind of took me back to high school days when I had a lot of long runs and everything."

Tech, which may have lost center Andrew Miller for the season to a fractured ankle in the third quarter, is now tied in the loss column in the ACC's Coastal Division with Miami (3-1 in the ACC), Duke and North Carolina (2-1). UNC is ineligible for postseason play.

After giving up 236 yards in the first half, Tech shut down Duke in the second half. Duke had minus-2 yards in the third quarter, and 93 yards in the second half. It finished with 329 yards, including just 22 rushing. Tech had a season-high 525 yards, including 269 rushing.

Tech had a season-high five sacks, four of them in the second half. Defensive tackle Luther Maddy had two sacks.

As convincing as Tech's eruption for 41 unanswered points was, it seemed like an unlikely conclusion after the first 12 minutes of the game. Duke jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 12:16 left in the first quarter on a 62-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sean Renfree to wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who beat cornerback Kyle Fuller.

Tech's biggest disaster took place when Thomas, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and an interception to go along with 50 yards rushing for the game, attempted a swing pass to running back Tony Gregory at Tech's 20-yard line. Gregory bobbled the pass and safety Jordon Byas picked it out of the air, returning it 20 yards for a touchdown to put Duke up 20-0 with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter.

"Everyone just kept playing and that's something special right there," Beamer said. "It's not easy to do. A lot of people would panic and start pointing fingers, (but) our guys hung in there."

Tech scored on its drive after Byas' touchdown with the help of a 40-yard completion from Thomas to receiver Marcus Davis, who had five catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Martin Scales scored on a 4-yard touchdown run on the next play to cut Duke's lead to 20-7 with 41 seconds left in the first quarter.

With Tech trailing 20-10 in the second quarter, Detrick Bonner helped set up the Hokies' second touchdown by intercepting Renfree with 25 seconds left and returning it to Duke's 42. Thomas found Davis wide open on the next play for a 42-yard touchdown pass to slice Duke's advantage to 20-17 with 19 seconds left before halftime.

After Tech scored touchdowns on three of its first four drives in the second half to take a 34-20 lead, Duke had its best chance to score in the half turned away.

On the 13th play of a fourth-quarter drive, Renfree's pass into the end zone on fourth-and-12 from Tech's 14 to receiver Issac Blakeney was batted away by Bonner with 9:32 left. Coleman scored on his 86-yard run on the next play, making Duke's big early lead a distant memory.

"My exact words were, 'Not again,'" said Tech defensive end James Gayle, a Bethel High graduate, of Duke's 20-0 lead. "I knew they weren't going to blow us out. I could tell by the flow of the game that if we kept pounding, it was going to turn out in our hands."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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