BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech ignored all the noise about last year’s 49-35 loss to Old Dominion leading up to Saturday’s rematch at Lane Stadium.
The upset loomed large in recent days with Hokies players also dealing with the emotions of having to face former teammates Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham as grad transfers after last season.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente called it a “little bit of a circus”, but players didn’t engage with the opposition on social media, they didn’t mix it up with fans and when asked about last year’s loss by reporters throughout the week they didn’t add any bulletin board material.
It had Fuente breathing a sigh of relief after the 31-17 win.
“All the stuff outside, the talk and things that get going on, we can’t concern ourselves with those things,” Fuente said. “We just can’t. We have to focus on trying to get better and I thought by and large our guys did a good job of that. It is a unique situation. But I thought our guys did a good job.”
Virginia Tech didn’t look the four-touchdown favorite it was projected as — wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley called it a “sloppy” effort that included a pair of late turnovers — but the struggles weren’t about a lack of focus.
“We tried to honestly, and not coach speak, I’m sure you guys will roll your eyes, but we try to really just focus on our improvement and try to get better for the game,” Fuente said. “There was a lot that went into all that, between the game last year and all that sort of stuff. And for us, it was … we can’t do anything about any of that. Other than we have to focus on the football game and get ready to play football.”
It was a much-needed win for a team that came into the game having lost seven of its last 10.
“To be successful in athletics at this level you have to have a short memory,” Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis said. “That was a year ago. It’s a whole new team. They’re a whole new team. They have 42 new players and I don’t think last year really affected us at all today. It wasn’t too chippy. It’s just another game. we had to go out and handle business and we did today.”
While it didn't completely make up for last year's loss to ODU, it was a solid first step. Tech will get additional opportunities to balance the scales in the years to come with ODU on the schedule with 10 more games scheduled between the programs through 2031.
"I think that loss is always going to sting this program just a little bit, but today it didn’t really matter to me. At the end of the day, we won the game," Virginia Tech defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt said.
As for those former Hokies, coaches and players wished them well. Kumah finished with three catches for 24 yards — he was defended well for much of the game by Tech defensive back Jermaine Waller — and Cunningham had three carries for two yards.
“I saw Eric (after the game),” Fuente said. “Told him congratulations and wished him the best of luck. I didn’t see Chris. I looked for him but I didn’t see him.”
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who recruited Kumah, also had a heartfelt exchange with the receiver after the game.
“He was so appreciative of me giving him an opportunity to play college football,” Foster said. “I told him that at the end this will be a relationship for a lifetime. When I recruited him, I told him it was going to be that way.”
And Kumah's last word on the subject?
"Good game much respect to @coachfostervt y’all send him out on a good note," Kumah tweeted after the game.