Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle recorded a safety in the waning moments to help the Hokies hold on in a 15-10 nonconference victory over the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, Tech moved to 2-1 overall on the season, while ECU fell to 2-1. The Hokies have won four straight versus ECU and 10 of 11 games. Tech has won five straight games in Greenville.
“The win was great,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “ECU is a good team. You look over at them, and they’ve got all these great athletes. We’ve just got to keep on getting better. I thought we were about to put them away three different times and we didn’t get it done, but I give our kids a lot of credit for hanging in there and finding a way.”
The Hokies had several opportunities to put the Pirates away in the second half, but kicker Cody Journell missed an extra point and two field goals. He missed a third attempt late in the game that was negated when ECU ran into him, leaving the Hokies with a fourth-and-1 at the ECU 10. Beamer elected to go for it, but quarterback Logan Thomas couldn’t pick up the first down on a quarterback sneak, giving the Pirates the ball at their 10 with just 2:04 left in the game.
Gayle, though, finally sealed it for the Hokies. The fifth-year senior rushed ECU quarterback Shane Carden, hitting him in the end zone and knocking the ball out of his hands. ECU’s Ike Harris fell on the ball in the end zone, resulting in a sack and safety for Gayle and the Hokies.
ECU then tried on an onsides kick, but the kick didn’t travel 10 yards, and the Hokies ran out the clock for the win.
“When I saw we didn’t get it [on fourth down], I just knew we had to pin our ears back and come and get him [Carden] since there were only two minutes left,” Gayle said. “As a defensive lineman, that’s what you want. I wish we were in that situation every week. Whenever we’re ahead, that’s when we get to use our moves and rush the passer.”
Tech trailed 10-7 in the third quarter after ECU kicker Warren Harvey made a 44-yard field goal with 8:49 left. But the Hokies answered with what turned out to be the game-winning score.
A 10-play, 75-yard drive ended when Thomas found D.J. Coles in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. Journell missed the extra point, but the Hokies took the 13-10 lead.
Thomas played well in this, helping the Hokies rally from 7-0 and 10-7 deficits. ECU got on the board quickly in this one, scoring on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Carden to Bryce Williams on the game’s first possession. But Thomas answered minutes later, capping a 70-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Demitri Knowles that tied things at 7 with 3:42 left in the first quarter.
Thomas completed 25 of 43 for 258 yards for the game, with two touchdowns and an interception. On third downs, Thomas went 10 for 18 for 129 yards, with eight of those passes resulting in first downs.
“The passing game felt good to me,” Thomas said. “We had a lot of things open. At time, with a little bit more time, we’d have had more explosive plays. But we’re putting things together and getting better every week, and I can’t complain about that. We put up a decent amount of offense. We just need to put up more points.”
Tech finished with 311 yards of offense on a day in which it struggled to run the ball. The Hokies only rushed for 53 yards, leaving them one-dimensional. Thomas completed passes to seven different receivers, with Knowles catching eight passes for 99 yards and Willie Byrn catching seven passes for 63 yards.
Tech’s defense though, was the story of the day. The Hokies gave up 75 yards on ECU’s opening possession, but the Pirates only mustered 129 yards the rest of the game. They only managed 30 yards in the second half.
Tech finished with seven sacks, including two each by Gayle and J.R. Collins, and 11 tackles for a loss. The Hokies picked off three Carden passes, with freshman Brandon Facyson getting two of those.
“It says a lot because ECU is not a slouch team at all,” Gayle said when asked what it says to win on a day when Tech didn’t play its best. “They have great athletes and a quarterback that makes them go. We were able to check them early [after the first drive]. I feel like our offense is going to continue to get better with reps. Down the line, we’re going to be a lot better.”
The Hokies return home for their next game, taking on Marshall next Saturday at Lane Stadium. Kickoff is slated for noon.