Duke vs Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Hokies' Hezekiah Grimsley (6) attempts to get around Duke's Austin Parker (45) on a punt return at Lane Stadium, Sept. 27, 2019.

Virginia Tech football got its first shot at securing the ACC Coastal title on Friday night: a primetime game in Lane Stadium against Duke. The Blue Devils were Tech’s first real test since the loss to Boston College on Aug. 31.

Going into the game, Duke quarterback Quentin Harris held the No. 12 spot in ESPN’s quarterback ratings with a pass completion percentage of 72.5%. Pressure all around the field was necessary to stop him and Virginia Tech’s defense came up with two quarterback hurries in the first half, but began to deteriorate in the second half. It allowed Duke to execute many big plays, giving up 234 rushing yards. Virginia Tech only managed 259 total yards.

Virginia Tech lacked strength all around and lost the game 45–10, the largest loss in the Fuente era.

“They handled us on both sides of the ball,” said head coach Justin Fuente, “I’ve got to find a way to get more out of them in all three phases of the game.”

Early offense was a struggle for both teams; the first two possessions each ended in punts. However, receiver Hezekiah Grimsley got the game started for the Hokies on their third possession with a 25-yard punt return to put the ball on Duke’s 40-yard line. Duke penalties fell in favor of Virginia Tech; a Duke interception in the end zone did not stand due to a roughing-the-passer call, giving the Hokies an automatic first down. But, the Hokies had to settle for a field goal; Brian Johnson made a 20-yard attempt to put Tech up three after the first quarter.

A lost fumble in the second quarter from quarterback Hendon Hooker allowed Duke to take over at the 16-yard line. A 16-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Noah Gray put Duke on the board. It was Fuente’s plan to play both Ryan Willis and Hooker at quarterback in order to break up the workload; both are dealing with mild health issues.

On Duke’s next possession, Harris was able to complete a few long passes and set the Blue Devils up in the red zone. A pass interference call on Chamarri Conner put Duke on the 2-yard line and Harris was able to connect with Gray again in the end zone for his second touchdown.

The Hokies responded with a 45-yard carry from Deshawn McClease, the second-longest rushing play of the season. But, Tech could not convert to points and Oscar Bradburn punted it away on third down.

Duke vs Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Hokies' Deshawn McClease (33) looks to get around Duke's Victor Dimukeje (51) to reach the end zone at Lane Stadium, Sept. 27, 2019.

Duke then managed 91 yards in nine plays to reach the end zone yet again. A 25-yard pass from receiver Jalon Calhoun to running back Deon Jackson made the score 21–3 going into the half.

Duke vs Virginia Tech

Duke tight end Noah Gray (87) runs into the end zone as the Blue Devils ran out to a 21-3 lead in the first half of the ACC conference game at Lane Stadium, Sept. 27, 2019.

After 17:35 minutes with the ball, the Hokies could only come up with a field goal. Virginia Tech went into the locker room with its work cut out for the second half.

The Blue Devils opened up the second-half scoring, though. Duke attempted its first field goal of the game from 32 yards. The Blue Devils were able to find gaps on the field and gain 49 yards, mostly rushing. However, Harris was not able to find Aaron Young in the end zone, so Duke took the field goal route.

With Hooker in as quarterback on the next drive, the Hokies were not able to make it far. A few incomplete passes and a failed-fourth-down conversion later, Duke found itself with the ball again on Virginia Tech’s 42-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Harris rushed the entire 42 yards for another Duke touchdown, giving the Blue Devils a 28-point edge on the Hokies. Fans began to empty out of Lane Stadium before the conclusion of the third quarter as hopes of a comeback seemed to be slipping out of reach.

However, Virginia Tech finally made a big play to get the crowd going. A deep 72-yard touchdown pass from Willis to Damon Hazleton put the first Hokie points on the board since the first quarter. The play also marks Willis’s longest pass and Hazleton’s longest catch.

But, Duke kept its offense rolling in the fourth quarter. The Hokie were not able to catch Jackson as he ran 32 yards into the end zone, adding another seven points to the score.

An interception by Blue Devil Leonard Johnson seemed to seal the game, still with 11 minutes to go. Virginia Tech has averaged 2.75 turnovers per game so far this season.

To top it off, Duke scored one more touchdown via a 9-yard carry by Chris Katrenick to conclude the game.

“We were not ready, we are not at the point where we can compete, play and have a chance to win with the team we played tonight,” Fuente said.

Virginia Tech now drops to 2–2 on the season and 0–2 against ACC teams. If Virginia Tech has chances of beating Miami on Oct. 5 in Coral Gables, adjustments on both the offensive and defensive sides must be made.

“We still got another game to play,” McClease said. “We can’t focus on one game; this game is behind us.”

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