Saturday September 24th might be remembered as a turning point. At least the effort put forth upon the green natural turf of Worsham Field at Lane Stadium on Saturday might be seen that way, in the future. Nobody needs to remind all of us of the painful nature of the ECU Accidental Rivalry. A team that in the 2000’s seemed to be a solid step up from opening "pre-season" non-conference opponents became something entirely different. Okay, we’ll take a break from the faux objectivity and call them warmup cupcakes, so it might be just recompense that ECU seemed to grow past the role to challenge us repeatedly.
Homecoming 2016 seemed almost sedate. The weather was bright an hour before the 12:30 kickoff there were almost no clouds to be seen in the mountain skies above Lane Stadium. The player warm-ups seemed routine enough. It was "Orange Effect" day, and the team was wearing that "chrome burnt orange" sort of VT helmet, and my favorite uniform the "All Maroons". A funny thought came to several of us as we took pictures and scouted the player warmups; "guess they only wanted to try to beat one jinx at a time". Most of us are very aware of the odd and disappointing things going on when the team wears orange jerseys. You just never know what crossed the minds of the equipment folks.
Frankly, most folks were just hot, more than wary. We were all rotating in and out of a small patch of shade that developed in a notch on the north side of the 50, along the barrier to the stands. It was just a touch of relative cool in an otherwise broiling heat. Of course there were visiting recruits from both the basketball team and the football team. Coach Buzz Williams was caught hamming it up with the Hokie Bird; Coach Williams is a regular presence on the sidelines before the games. I am sure the football coaching staff and the students all appreciate his direct interest in the success of the football program.
The band was trying its best to get the spirits of the filling stands into the coming contest. It’s very interesting to get caught in the middle of a stampede of clarinets, flutes, trumpets, and trombones, thank heaven I got out of the way before the tubas trundled by.
There just wasn’t a whole lot of noise going on. There was the respectful solemn nature of the Corps of Cadets marching on, the displaying of the colors, and the sound of Lane Stadium singing the "Star Spangled Banner" was the loudest noise from the stands up until that moment. That mark on the dB meter would pass quickly, however. As the "Let’s Go!" "Hokies!" built, you could feel the energy shift. The team captains headed out to the 50 to prepare to greet the team, and the cheerleaders grabbed the big flags the faint pulse changed to a roar, and at the appropriate bar of "Enter Sandman", stands alive with jumping Hokies, the team, led by Coach Fuente and wearing the number 25 Greg Stroman burst out of the tunnel and through the line of jumping Hokies onto Worsham Field.
The only thing that seemed to be missing was the usual late September "snap" in the Blacksburg breeze. Summer was letting go too slowly for football fans. The game seemed to start with the same energy sapping warmness that the day did.
The Hokie opening series resulted in a punt then ECU’s resulting in going almost nowhere and another punt. With both defenses making stops, something had to give.
That something was an opening game changer; Greg Stroman traded a football for his VT flag, and lit up the scoreboard and the crowd with an electric 87 yard punt return for a touchdown.
Tech’s offense couldn’t get untracked until late in the 1st quarter when it put together a good consistent drive after an exchange of punts. The offense untracked courtesy of a serious tank impression performed by Marshawn Williams.
Well, with tech up 14 to nothing some energy came out of the Defense’s play. The Nelson to Jones combination seemed to chew up more yards than the slightly winded defense could stop, until it finally snubbed off a promising ECU drive at the Tech 18. Their field goal unit took the field for what was a sure three points and a bit of momentum change. Greg Stroman seemed to want to have none of that and came streaking in to block the Pirate Field goal attempt.
Tech scored a touchdown on a 24 yard pass to Isaiah Ford and the pressure began to crack the ECU defense. Suddenly, what had been the possibility of a two score game with plenty of time on the clock, ended up a three score game with too much time left. The Virginia Tech Special Teams unit wasn’t done just yet though. After a stalled drive, ECU attempted to punt the ball and Cam Phillips decided to get into the act. The ensuing blocked punt resulted with the Hokies’ ball on the edge of the red zone and a reeling ECU in front of them.
The energy of the crowd, Special Teams excellence got the entire team into the snowballing energy level. Joey Sly kicked a field goal when an emergency fill in for Jerod Evans’ ankle tweak by Brenden Motley stalled at the ECU 7.
ECU turned the ball over on downs at the VT18 after trying for a 4th and short. Tech took advantage of the momentum stop, and drove the ball a short way before Jerod Evans hit Cam Phillips on a beautiful 55 yard touchdown strike.
That wrapped up the half for Tech’s scoring at an impressive 38-0 Hokies.
The second half was a bit surprising, with ECU ambushing the Tech defense for a quick six and a PAT, and you could almost hear the sideline deflate. There the surprise that no one in Orange for the day wanted to see.
After a stuffed Virginia Tech drive on the ECU 3 yard line, Tech turned the ball over on downs but there was a bit of revenge in the hearts of the defense because an Ekanem, Edmunds meeting at the quarterback in the ECU end zone resulted in a safety.
Of course the two points wasn’t quite sufficient for Jerod Evans, who personally capped the drive after the free kick with a brilliant 55 yard jinking, dodging, tackle breaking touchdown run.
And that just about wrapped up the entire game. ECU would go on to score some garbage time points, a Field Goal and a Touchdown to put a stake in the skunk, but there was no way they were going to come back from this one.
It must have been a dreary, difficult and disappointing feeling for someone taking pictures from the sidelines of the last two season’s games. The 2014 effort was seriously disappointing from the bleachers, that’s for sure.
This win might not have garnered the attention of the sports media and talking heads, all that much. It sure did grab Hokie Nation by the lapels and shout that the Virginia Tech Fighting Gobblers were back, and will continue to get better.
The next segment is the Miami Game. It’ll probably be a critical game in determining the Coastal, and it’s on Thursday Night. I can’t wait!