What began as a festival became a mass vigil with the outcome almost secondary in Virginia Tech's season opener.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick demonstrated to a near-capacity crowd at Lane Stadium on Saturday what the buzz was about, providing a jump-start to the 11th-ranked Hokies' 47-0 rout of James Madison.
Vick, a Warwick High product, scored three touchdowns and accounted for 164 yards of offense in a quarter-and-a-half of his much-anticipated debut. But his day ended abruptly when he injured his left leg on a spectacularly frightening scoring run that ended with an off-balance vault and somersault into the end zone.
"We were all headed to the site before he hit," Virginia Tech team doctor Duane Lagan said. "It looked like something bad."
X-rays taken at halftime showed no broken bones. Lagan said Vick had a contusion of his lower left leg. In fact, Vick walked off the field under his own power. After X- rays were taken, he returned to the sidelines in the second half with his left foot immobilized in a heavy plastic boot.
Vick limped noticeably following the game, and his status for Saturday's game against Alabama Birmingham won't be determined until later this week.
"I expect to be on the field," Vick said. "If I have to go to treatment three times a day, I'll do it."
Vick's departure deflated the Hokies momentarily, but the defense and special teams did most of the heavy lifting the rest of the day, and tailbacks Shyrone Stith and Andre Kendrick combined for 167 yards rushing.
The Hokies limited the Division I-AA Dukes to 210 total yards - 122 of which came on two plays. Tech recorded six sacks and held JMU to only 1 of 14 conversions on third and fourth downs.
"The only way Virginia Tech was not going to beat us was if they started turning the ball over," said JMU's Mickey Matthews, making his head coaching debut. "I don't think there was any point that was a turning point in the game. They were better than us for four quarters."
Tech's special teams compounded JMU's problems. Though the Hokies didn't block any kicks, they had three touchdown drives of 40 yards or shorter, all set up by superb punt returns by Ricky Hall. The redshirt senior wide receiver averaged 27 yards on four punt returns and hauled in a 60-yard pass from Vick that set up a Shayne Graham field goal in the second quarter.
"It was a field-position nightmare for our defense," Matthews said.
Vick provided plenty of nightmares all by himself until his injury. He scored Tech's first touchdown on a 7-yard keeper around left end with 7:01 to play in the first quarter, finishing off an 80-yard drive.
On JMU's next possession, Tech cornerback Anthony Midget intercepted quarterback Charles Berry at the Hokies' 42-yard line. Two plays later, Vick couldn't find a receiver, avoided the pass rush and took off straight down the middle of the field, outracing everyone for a 54-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
"That's what he can bring to the table," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "He's a guy who can get the ball into the end zone a couple different ways."
Hall's 43-yard punt return midway through the second quarter set up the Hokies at the JMU 11-yard line. On third-and-six from the 7, Vick dropped back to pass and again took off when he felt pressure. Two JMU defenders were in front of him, and he took off at the 4-yard line, trying to dive over them into the end zone. But he was upended and somersaulted, awkwardly landing on his feet, with most of his weight on his left ankle.
"I don't know what made me jump," Vick said afterward. "I thought I was about to land on my head. But I landed on my feet and it was like a surprise. My feet weren't in position to land, so it was like a shock."
Vick said the initial pain was "excruciating."
"I was scared to look down at my ankle at first," he said. "I thought there was probably about two or three bones sticking out. I just thank God it wasn't as severe as I thought it was."
Dave Meyer filled in ably for Vick, completing 7-of-14 passes for 82 yards. He directed three touchdown drives, scoring once himself on a 2-yard plunge.
"Mike and I were talking (Friday) night about his friend Ronald Curry," Meyer said, referring to the North Carolina quarterback from Hampton High, "and how he had to go in the first quarter of the first game, and we were saying, I hope nothing like that happens to us."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
James Madison 0 0 0 0 - 0
Virginia Tech 14 12 14 7 - 47
First downs 10 19
Rushes-yards 42-119 55-274
Passing 91 202
Comp-Att-Int 10-18-1 12-22-0
Return Yards 13 113
Punts-Avg. 9-42 5-45
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 7-39 6-50
Time of Possession 27:57 32:03
RUSHING-James Madison, Keaton 14-108, Joyce 10- 24, Carson 7-23, DeFilippo 1-(minus-6), Berry 10- (minus-30). Virginia Tech, Stith 18-122, Vick 4-54, Kendrick 11-45, Davis 1-22, Suggs 8-22, Ferguson 2- 11, Hawkins 3-10, Ward 1-2, Burnell 3-2, Meyer 4- (minus-16).
PASSING-James Madison, Berry 9-17-1-71, DeFilippo 1-1-0-20. Virginia Tech, Meyer 7-14-0-82, Vick 4-6- 0-110, Noel 1-2-0-10.
RECEIVING-James Madison, Payton 7-71, Fleshman 1- 9, Joyce 1-8, Griffin 1-3. Virginia Tech, Witten 3- 25, Hall 2-66, Davis 2-51, Ferguson 1-24, Carter 1- 15, Hawkins 1-11, Johnson 1-9, Stith 1-1.
HOW THEY SCORED
VA. TECH: Michael Vick runs 7 yards, 7:59 into quarter. Shayne Graham PAT. Key plays: Vick passes 43 yards to Andre Davis; Shyrone Stith runs 32 yards to JMU 4. 6 plays, 80 yards. Time of possession: 2:06. Va. Tech 7-0.
VA. TECH: Vick runs 54 yards, 10:19. Graham PAT. 2 plays, 58 yards. Time of possession: 50 seconds. Va. Tech 14-0.
VA. TECH: Graham kicks 32-yard field goal, 4:18. Key play: Vick passes 60 yards to Ricky Hall to JMU 11. 11 plays, 73 yards. Time of possession: 4:54. Va. Tech 17-0.
VA. TECH: Vick runs 7 yards, 7:42. Graham PAT. Key play: Hall returns punt 43 yards to JMU 11. 3 plays, 11 yards. Time of possession: 1:25. Va. Tech 24-0.
VA. TECH: Safety, Corey Moore tackles Curtis Keaton in end zone, 10:39. Va. Tech 26-0.
VA. TECH: Davis runs 22 yards, 6:04. Graham PAT. Key play: Stith runs 32 yards. 5 plays, 86 yards. Time of possession: 1:28. Va. Tech 33-0.
VA. TECH: Dave Meyer runs 2 yards, 11:48. Graham PAT. Key play: Meyer passes 15 yards to Derek Carter on third-and-7. 10 plays, 38 yards. Time of possession: 4:11. Va. Tech 40-0.
VA. TECH: Andre Kendrick runs 4 yards, 2:39. Graham PAT. Key play: Kendrick runs 11 yards to JMU 17. 7 plays, 39 yards. Time of possession: 2:39. Va. Tech 47-0.