With memories of a rainy September afternoon loss to JMU nearly a decade ago, Virginia Tech fans couldn’t bear the idea of watching a similar meltdown on Saturday.
Fans took to the Lane Stadium exits at halftime with the Hokies trailing by double digits to Furman, an FCS foe that almost pulled off an upset over Georgia State the previous week.
Tech’s faithful hit the panic button a little too soon.
Virginia Tech came storming back early in the third quarter scoring a pair of touchdowns in less than two minutes and held on for a 24-17 victory.
“We went out there and it challenged us, it showed us like hey, these guys are no punks,” Tech true freshman running back Keshawn King said. “So we had to go out there and we had to actually work for what we wanted and we got the dub.”
King provided the second-half spark for the Hokies, who trailed 14-3 at halftime. It started when he broke three tackles on his first carry of the second half for an impressive 15-yard gain. But that was only the appetizer for the main course — a 54-yard run down to Furman’s 14-yard line.
It was easily Tech’s longest run of the season and set up a 3-yard touchdown run from tight end James Mitchell four plays later.
King finished with a career-high 119 rushing yards and two catches for 16 yards. He would have been in line for an even bigger day if he hadn’t been shaken up on the drive and only played a handful of snaps the rest of the game.
“That kid’s a man,” Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis said.
Furman gave the ball right back to Virginia Tech with a fumble on the first play of its ensuing drive. Hokies safety Chamarri Conner made a textbook open-field tackle on a swing pass to running back Devin Wynn, and linebacker Dax Hollifield came in at the end of the play to knock the ball loose at the 26-yard line.
Tech made quick work of the short field, with Willis hitting Tré Turner for a 2-yard touchdown to cap off a four-play drive. Turner’s first touchdown of the season gave Tech a 17-14 lead with 8:12 to go in the third quarter.
Those first two drives of the third quarter for Tech made up for what was one of the ugliest first half offensive performances in recent Hokies history with two turnovers, four penalties, three sacks allowed and 2.6 yards per carry on 18 rushing attempts.
Virginia Tech’s two first-half giveaways gave Furman a short field to work with in both cases and resulted in touchdowns for the Paladins.
Fans booed Willis in the second quarter when he returned to the field on the possession that followed him overthrowing Hezekiah Grimsley, which resulted in an interception. It was the fourth interception (and fifth turnover) of the season for Tech’s starting quarterback. Willis finished 17 of 21 for 123 yards with a touchdown and the interception.
“I heard it,” Willis said of the boos. “It’s disappointing. We have a great fan base. It just shows it means a lot to them. I’m going to do everything in my power to put the best product on the field possible and do everything in my will to get wins every week for this team.”
Tech’s only points of the first half came on a 35-yard field from Brian Johnson with 5:35 to go in the first quarter.
Furman scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second quarter to take the lead into halftime. Devin Abrams scored from 4 yards out, and quarterback Darren Grainger scored on a 15-yard run.
Abrams scored after the biggest miscue of the half for the Hokies defense, which was called for an offsides penalty with Furman facing fourth-and-1 at the 11-yard line.
Tech’s defense held Furman to 231 yards (4.0 yards per play) and 12 first downs. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster came into the game worried about dual-threat quarterback Grainger, but the Hokies, who recorded five sacks and two hurries, kept Grainger bottled up in the run game and constantly harassed him in the pocket.
“We had to win that matchup,” Fuente said of the defensive line. “They do enough stuff offensively and have enough weapons to scare you to death now. I’m telling you …we had to win the line of scrimmage to try and nullify some of those guys, and I thought for the most part we did.”
Caleb Farley came up with an interception in the second half as well. The Hokies also made an impressive goal-line stand in the final minutes, forcing Furman to settle for a 22-yard field goal after having a fresh set of downs at the 3-yard line.
Furman recovered an onside kick with 1:47 to go, but was called for an illegal blocking penalty. Virginia Tech recovered the ball on the second attempt and ran out the clock.