The Virginia Tech Hokies picked up a huge 43-41 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday evening in Lane Stadium. This game featured it all, including being the longest game in ACC history, thanks to six overtimes. The win also moved the Hokies to 5-2 on the season, including a 2-2 mark in league play. A few short weeks ago, no one probably thought this team was capable of winning three consecutive games.
This was a game where the Hokies played three different quarterbacks. Sophomore Hendon Hooker made his third straight start and played well. He completed eight of 12 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 41 yards before a leg injury sidelined him late in the second quarter. He is now 3-0 as a starter. Senior Ryan Willis came in and on his first play found Damon Hazelton for a touchdown to put the Hokies back in the lead late in the second quarter. It was a beautiful throw, especially considering Willis came in cold.
However, Willis would get the next two possessions, both ending prematurely due to him taking two sacks. That led Justin Fuente to turn to redshirt freshman Quincy Patterson. And boy was Patterson a joy to watch. The youngster came in and showed everyone his blazing speed and power. At first, offensive coordinator Brad Cornelson appeared hesitant to let Patterson throw.
And, quite frankly, Patterson couldn’t be stopped on the ground. When they finally let Patterson throw, he was poised and accurate. He completed just three of six passes for 54 yards and a score. However, he had one pass dropped inside the five that could’ve ended the game much sooner. Patterson showed glimpses of why Hokie Nation was excited about this kid all along. Patterson would also finish with 122 yards and a touchdown, also scoring the game-winning two-point conversion to send fans home happy.
The offensive line was terrific, too. Luke Tenuta came in, receiving his first substantial playing time at right tackle. He was terrific. He did not allow a single pressure. Combined with the other young offensive linemen, this group is getting better and is going to be a true strength for this program moving forward.
Deshawn McClease was good. As was Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton, Dalton Keene and James Mitchell. Each player contributed significantly to Virginia Tech’s win.
Now, how about the defense?
While the final numbers tell one story, several individual performances did stand out. Rayshard Ashby was outstanding yet again. He finished with 18 tackles, including two for loss and half of a sack. Freshman Norell Pollard continues to show everyone why he is a star in the making on the defensive line, as he got two sacks on Sam Howell.
How about Caleb Farley, who finished with four pass break-ups in the first half alone before going out with what appears to be a head injury. Farley is a supreme athlete still learning to play defensive back and performances like this are why everyone should be excited. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Farley in the second half and beyond.
There was Devon Hunter, making his first career start at rover in place of Reggie Floyd. Hunter talled eight tackles and played sound football. It was refreshing to see him on the field in a major role. I expect him to be much more involved moving forward. Chamarri Conner had another strong performance. Dax Hollifield made plays, too.
Perhaps the biggest hero was junior defensive back/whip linebacker Khalil Ladler. His final numbers don’t tell the story of his true impact. A starter last year, Ladler was passed on the depth chart by Conner. Instead of sulking or entering the transfer portal, Ladler kept working. And on Saturday, he made three game-saving plays. He broke up one pass in the end zone, where he almost picked off Howell. The biggest play came in the fifth overtime when Howell pitched it to Michael Carter who looked like he would score easily, but Ladler came through like a missile and stopped Carter and we are on to the final overtime period.
Ladler looked to be playing faster and more decisively Saturday and the Hokies do not win this game without him.
You see, there were so many performances where we could say “the Hokies don’t win without” said player. It was an amazing performance by not only numerous individual players, but from the coaching staff, too.
This group is having fun and believing in the coaching staff. No one knows for sure what the final record will be, but I am certain it is not going to be as bad as we all presumed after that embarrassing home loss to Duke. Perhaps, at some point, we can all look back to that game as the turning point. We shall see, but for now, let’s just enjoy the ride.