With all national championship discussion having gone extinct three weeks ago, and aspirations for a third consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship on life support, Virginia Tech wasn't in a position Thursday night where it needed style points at East Carolina.
Tech simply needed a win, something it hadn't experienced since an Oct. 10 victory against Boston College — almost a month. Though its effort against ECU wasn't always runway-model beautiful, Tech managed to get bowl-eligible for the 17th straight season with a 16-3 victory.
Running back Ryan Williams led No. 22 Tech (6-3 overall, 3-2 ACC) with 26 carries for a career-high 179 yards, giving him 1,109 yards for the season. He and Tech running back Darren Evans are the first freshman backs from the same team in Football Bowl Subdivision history to gain more than 1,108 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Evans, who is sitting out this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, ran for an ACC freshman-record 1,265 yards last season. While Williams helped pave the way for the majority of Tech's 379 yards, the Hokies still struggled to get the offense going when it needed to most — on the Pirates' side of the field.
In the first quarter, after Jayron Hosley returned a punt 33 yards to move Tech into ECU territory at the 31-yard line, the Hokies' ensuing drive stalled at the 24. Matt Waldron came on to kick a 41-yard field goal to put Tech ahead 3-0 with 8:59 left.
Tech forced another punt and proceeded to get its passing game in gear on its next drive. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed four consecutive passes to four receivers — Marcus Davis, Xavier Boyce, Jarrett Boykin and Smithfield High graduate Dyrell Roberts — to help Tech go from its 20 to ECU's red zone.
Taylor's 23-yard pass to Roberts put the Hokies at the Pirates' 9. Taylor, a Hampton High graduate, completed 17 of 30 passes for 137 yards. He also had 61 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
A trend that started in Virginia Tech's losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina continued early against ECU (5-4), which finished the night with 277 yards of offense. Though the Hokies had first-and-goal from the 9, they were only able to pick up 4 more yards on the drive and Waldron tacked on a 22-yard field goal to extend the lead to 6-0 with 51 seconds remaining in the quarter.
It was the 11th consecutive first-half drive in the last three games in which Virginia Tech moved into the opponents' territory, yet failed to score a touchdown. Tech would have one more first-half trip into ECU's territory without a touchdown before it broke the streak at 12.
ECU looked ready to bounce back early in the second quarter when Dominique Lindsay appeared to score on a 20-yard run, but the play was negated by a holding penalty on left guard Terence Campbell. Tight end Rob Kass fumbled the ball away one play later, and Tech took over with 12:03 left at its 25.
Williams quickly advanced the ball to ECU's 29 on a second-and-10 run of 46 yards where he ran right, spun behind the line of scrimmage, avoided three tacklers and scooted up the sideline before being taken down via a shoestring tackle. Then, Taylor connected with wide receiver Danny Coale for a 12-yard gain.
Taylor took matters into his own hands on the next play, and it proved to be disastrous. He ran up the middle of the field inside ECU's 1 before free safety Van Eskridge stripped the ball loose. It bounced out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, giving ECU possession at its 20 with 10:55 left in the half.
After three possessions in which the teams combined to pick up 4 yards, Tech finally found the end zone late in the half. Tech converted two third downs via short passes on a drive that started at its 21. On first-and-10 from ECU's 13, Taylor again decided to scramble. He found some room running left and dove for the left pylon, sneaking the ball just inside the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown run to boost Tech's advantage to 13-0 with 2:06 left.
At that point, ECU had gained 111 yards on 23 plays. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney changed the Pirates' fortunes on the last drive of the half by completing 6 of 9 passes for 64 yards. ECU had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Ben Hartman as time expired to cut Tech's lead to 13-3.
Neither team had success finding the end zone in the second half, as the only scoring came on a 31-yard field goal from Waldron with 1:13 left in the game. ECU squandered a huge opportunity at Tech's 26 with 17 seconds left in the third quarter when Taylor attempted to swing a screen pass out to Coale, but strong safety Levin Neal stepped in front of the pass and nearly intercepted it. Instead, the pass slipped through Neal's hands.
ECU crossed midfield just once on seven second-half drives. Its best scoring chance vanished in the third quarter when running back Giavanni Ruffin fumbled the ball away at Tech's 18 with 9:21 left.
NO. 22 VIRGINIA TECH 16, EAST CAROLINA 3Virginia Tech6703—16East Carolina0300—3First quarterVT—FG Waldron 41, 8:59. VT—FG Waldron 22, :00. Second quarterVT—T.Taylor 13 run (Waldron kick), 2:06. ECU—FG Hartman 24, :00. Fourth quarterVT—FG Waldron 31, 1:13. A:43,569.TEAM STATSVTECUFirst downs2214Rushes-yards45-24231-110Passing137167Comp-Att-Int17-30-016-35-1Return Yards5510Punts-Avg.7-44.98-46.5Fumbles-lost2-12-2Penalties-yards5-508-79Time of poss34:5725:03Rushing: Virginia Tech, R.Williams 26-179, T.Taylor 11-61, Oglesby 6-13, Team 1-(minus 3), Roberts 1-(minus 8). East Carolina, Lindsay 13-69, G.Ruffin 3-13, Harris 5-10, Freeney 1-9, Jackson 2-7, Pinkney 6-2, Jordan 1-0. Passing: Virginia Tech, T.Taylor 17-30-0-137. East Carolina, Pinkney 16-33-1-167, Jordan 0-2-0-0. Receiving: Virginia Tech, Coale 6-60, Boykin 3-17, R.Williams 3-9, Roberts 2-31, Boyce 2-11, Davis 1-9. East Carolina, Taylor 5-60, Freeney 4-50, Harris 3-45, Jenkins 1-6, Gidrey 1-3, Kass 1-3, Lindsay 1-0.