The rookie saved them. So, too, the forgiven kicker, former track star and entire defensive line.
For much of this season-opener against
With Georgia Tech leading in the fourth quarter, with Lane Stadium hushed, Virginia Tech needed Thomas more than ever.
Thomas responded. He passed for 140 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and directed a last-ditch drive that produced the tying field goal.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller then intercepted a Tevin Washington heave in overtime to set up Cody Journell's decisive 17-yard field goal.
"I leave extremely encouraged," Thomas said after the 20-17 victory. "I know we didn't play our best game the first three quarters, and in the fourth quarter we turned it on."
It was an odd game, as many Tech-Tech affairs have been.
Driving toward a two-score lead, the Hokies appeared poised to seize command in the first half. But the march stalled, and freshman punter A.J. Hughes mishandled a high snap from Joe St. Germain, giving the Yellow Jackets a short field at Virginia Tech's 24.
Three plays later, the game was tied at 7.
Defending Paul Johnson's option offense like few others, the Hokies crossed midfield repeatedly, only to fizzle. Linemen such as Derrick Hopkins, Luther Maddy and J.R. Collins were stuffing the dive, and linebackers Jack Tyler (17 tackles) and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (11) were plugging gaps.
"I thought our defense played spectacular," Tyler said.
That they did, until Georgia Tech's time-of-possession edge – the Yellow Jackets hogged the ball for 12:52 of the third quarter – exacted its toll.
With 9:16 remaining in regulation, Virginia Tech trailed 10-7 and had gained 34 yards in the second half. Thomas had not completed a pass of longer than 16 yards.
A 35-yard strike to Marcus Davis awakened Lane, a gain spared when
Knowles not only ran past cornerback Rod Sweeting but also caught the ball despite pass interference.
"I don't think that's going to be the last defensive back he runs by," Beamer said.
But the defense remained gassed. Washington eluded Collins' rush to convert a fourth-and-6 with a 19-yard rope to B.J. Bostic, and then flipped a 10-yard scoring pass to Deon Hill with 44 seconds left.
"When they scored that touchdown with 44 seconds left, you're thinking everything we worked for this summer, we just threw it away right there," Tyler said.
On the sideline, running backs coach Shane Beamer was asking his boss/father about spending some timeouts during the Jackets' late drive. But the big whistle declined, wasting about a minute and saddling Thomas more than was necessary.
It was as poor a clock management as I can recall from Beamer, but Thomas was unaffected.
"As a quarterback, got to have some kind of poise," he said.
Quarterbacks are made in the fourth quarter – Michael Vick at
It was a pressurized kick for anyone, let alone someone reinstated to the team during the summer in the wake of his December arrest following a drug deal gone haywire. Let alone someone who had missed from 38 yards earlier in the quarter.
By comparison, Journell's winner, shorter than an extra point, was routine.
The game was anything but, an XL opener against an
"I was so relieved to see Kyle get the pick (in overtime)," Tyler said, "but at the same time, I could hardly get myself off the field I was so out of energy."
While the defense sagged, Thomas surged. Through three quarters, he was 12-of-26 for 90 yards. In the fourth, he was 9-of-12 for 140 yards.
"I couldn't tell you," Thomas said when asked to explain the disparity. "Just struggled. Wasn't putting the ball where it needed to be. … Just very sporadic. …
"We could have done that the whole entire time. Was just some small things that kept us from doing it. A couple drives I had a man wide open and just missed him. That was just all on my back."
There was much less weight on his back when Journell's kick sailed between the uprights at 11:23 p.m.