BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech fans at Lane Stadium witnessed a college football first on Saturday.
After Tech kicker Brian Johnson missed a 42-yard field goal that would have won the game against North Carolina in the fourth overtime, the teams starting alternative two-point conversions with the Hokies closing out a 43-41 victory in six overtimes.
The confusion in the stands even extended to the field, and for good reason — this was the first time the new NCAA rule had come into play.
“What are we doing? We run one play, we don’t get it, I’m still on the field, confused, like, ‘What are we doing?’” Virginia Tech receiver Tre Turner said. “So no, I had no idea about the 2-point thing, the new overtime rules and all that.”
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente was asked about the new overtime after it was passed in April and didn’t quite understand why the old rule that required teams to attempt two-point conversion after every touchdown starting with the third overtime needed to be overhauled.
“I mean it happens once every how many years?” Fuente said. “I mean, personally I don’t see the reason for us to legislate that any more but I guess somebody did.”
The NCAA changed the rule in response to a marathon seven-overtime game between LSU and Texas A&M that featured 255 total plays and lasted nearly five hours. It was the longest game in history, but only the fifth game to reach seven overtimes since the old rules were adopted in 1996.
There were only 11 games total that even made it to five overtimes in two-plus decades. On Saturday, Tech and North Carolina joined that list.
“To be honest with you, I’d sort of lost track on which number we were on,” Fuente said. “I know we had to go for two, and then they came over and they slowed it down, the change in between whatever it went to, the fifth one, they came over and explained it to us and everything.”
While Virginia Tech hadn’t attempted a two-point conversion this season, they were a regular part of the team’s situational work going back to spring practice and there was an added emphasis on those reps this year after the rule changed.
“We have done two-point play work good vs. good, throughout fall camp, situational work, that sort of stuff,” Fuente said. “We cover the new rules in fall camp and talk about them. We spend, obviously, a lot more time on blind-side blocks and the two-man wedge on kickoff return than we did on that rule, but it obviously came into play today.”
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster felt pretty confident when the game got into the two-point conversion stage given all the work they had done. Khalil Ladler blew up both of North Carolina’s attempts in the backfield.
“That goes back to our practice,” Foster said. “We practice those situations. I felt our kids really stepped up big and didn’t panic, we prepared for the situation. We practiced those scenarios.”
That work on the offensive side didn’t extend to the quarterback that happened to be in the game during the fifth and sixth overtime. Tech turned to Quincy Patterson early in the second half in the wake of an injury to Hendon Hooker. Patterson, who has been third on the depth chart all season, hasn’t repped two-point conversions since fall camp.
“Watching guys like Hendon [Hooker] and Ryan [Willis], it’s really easy to get those mental pictures of what it’s like to do things right,” Patterson said. “ I think the coaches know that I value what they do as far the other two quarterbacks and they were just comfortable with me being in that situation.”
Tech’s first attempt was a failed pass attempt to Damon Hazelton in the corner of the end zone. Patterson was successful in the sixth overtime with a run over the left side of the line. It was the same play Patterson turned into a 53-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter running over the right side of the line.
“It was just an outside zone, quarterback keeper all the way,” Patterson said. “I seen the hole and cut it up, couldn’t really get any easier...It was like an out of body experience.”