Virginia squanders Commonwealth Cup

Last-minute interception by Johns seals Cavaliers' fate

Virginia Tech rode a 17-7 fourth quarter surge to claim the 12th consecutive win in the state of Virginia’s marquee football rivalry. With the win, the Hokies (6-6, 4-4 ACC) send head coach Frank Beamer to one final bowl game. The Cavaliers (4-8, 3-5 ACC) end their fourth consecutive season with nothing to show.

“That’s a tough way to lose a football game,” London said. “I thought we gave it an unbelievable effort.”

The game’s first half set a lethargic pace and finished with six punts and six points apiece. Virginia outgained the Hokies 165 to 69 in the first 30 minutes of game time, including a 102 to 14 edge on the ground, but the Cavaliers hindered their own efforts with seven penalties for 55 yards.

Junior quarterback Matt Johns was in firm control of the offense in the first half. The Chalfont, Pennsylvania native went 10-for-17 with 63 yards, but his legs were the real difference-makers. Johns scrambled away from pressure and racked up 59 rushing yards at the half.

John’s counterpart, senior Michael Brewer, had a much more difficult time negotiating around Virginia’s front line. The Cavaliers sacked Brewer three times and were in the face of Virginia Tech’s signal caller throughout.

“We tried to mix it up with different line stunts and twists,” London said. “We were effective early on getting to him.”

But after feasting on Brewer in the first half, Virginia’s defense would go without a sack on the other side of halftime — a key adjustment that contributed to an improved Hokies offense in the fourth quarter.

“The first thing we did was to challenge our offensive line,” Beamer said. “We just needed some time to get the ball downfield. I thought our offensive line did a much better job battling towards the end of the game.”

Virginia climbed out to a seven-point lead with under a minute remaining in the third quarter. The Cavaliers took over on their own 16 after a Virginia Tech punt and went to the ground twice, both for gains of seven yards. After an incompletion, Johns handed off to junior Albert Reid, who went untouched for a 57-yard touchdown run.

Reid and his fellow running backs ran at will against the Hokies. The Maryland transfer rushed for 103 yards on only nine attempts. In total, the Cavaliers rushed 40 times for 276 yards — a whopping 6.6 yards per carry. In 2014, Virginia Tech limited Virginia to 38 rushing yards on 35 touches.

As would be the case for the remainder of the contest, the Cavaliers’ defense could not get stops following scores by their teammates. On the first play from scrimmage following the Reid touchdown, Brewer uncorked a 71-yard pass to senior tight end Ryan Malleck. Two plays later, Brewer found junior fullback Sam Rogers in the end zone. In all, the scoring drive took three plays and 1:04 of game time.

“I think we just had some mental mishaps,” senior defensive tackle David Dean said. “We didn’t play our responsibilities and when you do that in games like these you pay for it, and we ended up paying for it.”

On the ensuing drive, the Cavaliers marched 90 yards to find pay dirt. Virginia showed a good mix of runs and passes before Johns connected with senior wide receiver Canaan Severin. The play was originally ruled an incompletion, but instant replay showed Severin getting one foot down. The call was reversed, and the Cavaliers were looking at another seven-point advantage.

But the Hokies struck quickly yet again — going 75 yards in only 1:24. Sophomore Isaiah Ford, who leads all Virginia Tech receivers in yards, catches and touchdowns, got behind Virginia’s defense twice on the drive for gains of 38 and 32 yards, the latter being a touchdown.

In total, Ford had six catches for 121 yards.

The Cavaliers were out of answers on offense and punted after four plays, setting up the Hokie’s go-ahead drive.

Starting on their own 20, Virginia Tech moved the ball all the way to Virginia’s 24. Ford made another big catch, this one for 21 yards, and Virginia Tech leaned heavily on redshirt freshman running back Travon McMillian, who carried the ball six times for 28 yards on the drive.

Sophomore kicker Joey Slye made his third field goal — all coming from over 40-plus yards.

With no timeouts and 1:38 left on the clock, Virginia started their final drive on their own 20. Three plays into the series that would define the Cavaliers’ season Johns threw down the middle of the field to redshirt freshman tight end Evan Butts. Butts was well-covered and junior cornerback Chuck Clark intercepted the pass, thus ending Virginia’s drive and their season.

Johns could not carry his first-half success into the end of the game. Virginia’s quarterback finished 18-of-38 with 171 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Following the game, attention quickly shifted to the head coaching situation for both teams. During the game multiple sources broke the news that current Memphis coach Justin Fuente will be named the Hokies new head coach with defensive coordinator Bud Foster remaining with the program. However, Virginia Tech athletics director refused to comment in a statement given after the game.

“I’m aware of the rumors that broke,” Babcock said. “They are not official at this time. Even on principal, I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that before coach Beamer’s last game.”

Virginia wasted little time in parting ways with its head coach. Sunday morning, Littlepage announced the resignation of London after six seasons with the team.

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