BLACKSBURG — Placekicker Cody Journell psyched himself out the first chance he had to give Virginia Tech a late lead against Virginia, saying he was trying too hard to factor the swirling wind into his approach and sailing a 41-yard field goal try wide to the left.
When the Hokies gave the junior another chance, he gave them the victory they desperately wanted.
Journell kicked a 29-yarder with four seconds to play, and the Hokies beat their instate rival 17-14 on Saturday, a victory that qualifies them for a bowl game for the 20th consecutive season and was their ninth straight against the Cavaliers.
“On the second one, I just tried to push it through the wind,” Journell said.
Cornerback Antone Exum set up the winning drive when he intercepted Michael Rocco at the Cavaliers’ 36 with 3:21 remaining. Exum brought it back to the 24, and Virginia (4-8, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) inexplicably held onto two timeouts as the Hokies ran the clock down and positioned the ball. The Cavaliers used both timeouts to try to freeze Journell, but to no avail.
“I felt that we were playing well defensively, and you just have to make a decision of how to save timeouts with seconds left on the clock or hope your defense gets a crack and causes a turnover or knocks them back a little bit,” Virginia coach Mike London said of not using his timeouts. “He made it. Didn’t make the first one, but he made the latter one.”
Logan Thomas ran for one touchdown and threw for another for the Hokies (6-6, 4-4), who have also won 13 of the past 14 in taking command of a once-close rivalry. Thomas carried the ball 29 times for 89 yards, and at times he seemed to be using all of his 6-foot-6, 260-pound body to be as punishing as he could be to would-be tacklers.
“I always try to run the ball that way. We weren’t moving the ball the way we wanted, and we were frustrated,” Thomas said. “I think they started getting worn down. They were in a fight, and we just kept bringing it to them all game long.”
Virginia led 14-7 after its first defensive touchdown of the season, a 16-yard fumble return by Brent Urban early in the third quarter. But the Cavs came up short on a fake field goal later in the period that could have given them a 17-7 advantage. On the fourth-and-8 play, holder Jacob Hodges caught the snap and ran through the line but was stopped 2 yards short.
It proved to be their last real scoring opportunity.
The Hokies took over at their 15, and Thomas shook off a miserable day to that point with a brilliant drive. He completed 4 of 5 passes, converted a third-and-5 with an 8-yard run, a fourth-and-1 with a 2-yard run, a third-and-4 with a 6-yard pass to Dyrell Roberts and then powered it in himself from the 4 for the tie.
“I didn’t have a problem with putting it on my shoulders,” Thomas said.
He finished just 18-for-38 for 129 yards, but he also drove Virginia Tech to the Virginia 24 in the fourth quarter, where Journell missed from 41 yards, handing the ball back to the Cavs. Three plays later, Exum was in one-on-one coverage with Tim Smith and undercut Rocco’s pass, leaving Smith looking for a holding or pass interference call that never came.
“It was close coverage. I’m not sure if it was pass interference,” Rocco said. “I didn’t throw it out far enough.”
Exum’s version? “The quarterback threw it right to me.”
Rocco finished 14-for-29 for 177 yards and was sacked twice. Virginia managed just 30 rushing yards.
The Hokies finished off the victory that ensures they will extend their streak of seasons ending in a bowl game to 20, the third-longest such string in the nation behind Florida State (31) and Florida (22).
For both teams, most of the biggest plays came on defense.
Thomas dropped back on third-and-10 from his 34 and was sacked by Jake Snyder for an 18-yard loss. Thomas also coughed up the ball, and Urban scooped it up and ran it 16 yards for the TD.
The Hokies scored first on Thomas’ 7-yard pass to Randall Dunn on third-and-5. It capped a 55-yard drive that featured 13-yard completions by Thomas to Corey Fuller and Marcus Davis, and a 13-yard run by Thomas.
The Cavs tied it late in the half after taking possession at midfield. Rocco hit Paul Freedman for 8 yards on first down and hit Smith with a simple sideline pass on second down. Smith broke an ankle tackle by Detrick Bonner right after the catch and took it 42 yards for the tying touchdown.
The first quarter featured six punts and a turnover by Virginia at its own 39. Exum stripped and recovered the fumble by Perry Jones, but three plays netted minus-4 yards and led to a punt.