Dalton Keene

Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene runs with the ball in his team's 43-41 overtime win over North Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2019.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech ran the ball 60 times on Saturday night in a 43-41 overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies starting running back Deshawn McClease had 13 carries while the team’s other backs combined for….zero carries.

Tech coach Justin Fuente was asked about the injury status of the team’s backups including Keshawn King — who was in uniform, but didn’t see the field — but declined to offer any updates. The comments made by defensive coordinator Bud Foster and other players Saturday night made it clear the team is dealing with some injuries in the backfield.

In order to spread the carries around, Tech turned used tight end Dalton Keene in the backfield.

Keene was a running back at Chatfield High School in Colorado, but hadn’t carried the ball since his senior year when he was the Chargers leading rusher with 1,175 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns.

That changed against North Carolina with Keene getting seven carries for 25 yards.

“That was something that we had planned on doing certainly, but kind of became a large part of what we were doing when Quincy [Patterson] came in the game,” Fuente said.

Keene didn’t get tackled behind the line of scrimmage and two of his carries went for first downs. The only blemish on his day was a fumble towards the end of the third quarter.

“I thought Dalton Keene did a great job, they called his number whether it’s at tight end or tailback, I’m proud of him,” running back Deshawn McClease said. “He went out there and ran the ball well and was productive.”

Fuente likes that Keene brings some size to the backfield at 6-foot-4, 251-pounds, which was something the coach mentioned when he discussed freshman running back Tahj Gary (5-foot-8, 221 pounds) getting his first carries last week in a win over Rhode Island.

“Obviously we don’t like the turnover, but he gives us an added dimension back there,”  Fuente said. “He’s so smart. He can line up anywhere. Really handles a lot of a physical load.”

The carries didn’t prevent Tech from moving Keene all over the field as usual. He was a strong presence blocking in the run game — that’s been even more important in recent weeks with the Hokies turning to a more mobile quarterback — and caught one pass for 18 yards. Keene has 16 catches for 171 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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