Another game, another loss for the Hokies. However, this one came in a heartbreaking fashion, not a blowout. Syracuse defeated Tech at home 41–36 in the last 24 seconds of the game, thanks to a 45-yard touchdown pass from Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader to receiver Damien Alford to put Syracuse up late.
“That’s a tough way to lose a ballgame. I hurt for our players, just because of the effort, the exertion they put out there today,” said head coach Justin Fuente.
There are some upsides to this loss, though. True freshman running back Malachi Thomas had a breakout game with three rushing touchdowns and 153 rushing yards. The Hokies also totaled a season-best in rushing yards with 260 yards. Although it was a high-scoring game, the defense came up with big plays, but could not stop the Orange when it mattered most.
From the very start, it was clear that Virginia Tech’s game plan had not changed. The first drive was very rush-centered, aside from the 22-yard reception from quarterback Braxton Burmeister to tight end Drake DeIuliis for his first career touchdown. Syracuse ran a similar offense, and Orange star running back Sean Tucker was on display with a big 20-yard run and a 28-yard touchdown run to tie the score. After the first two drives, it was clear that it would be a long game of defense and rush attacks.
On Tech’s next drive, a 30-yard catch from Burmeister to Tayvion Robinson where he was initially ruled down made all the difference. Burmeister ran the ball on the next snap to put the Hokies on the 4-yard line, and Thomas covered the rest to put Virginia Tech up 14–7 a minute into the second quarter. The score marked Thomas’ first career touchdown.
For a good portion of the second quarter, neither team could get much going on offense. Neither coaching staff deployed many pass attempts, and defense started to tighten up on both sides.
That is, until just under two minutes left in the first half. Syracuse gained 98 yards on its drive to score a touchdown, but the PAT was blocked Beamer Ball-style, and Dorian Strong ran all the way to the house for two points.
To start the next drive, Raheem Blackshear rushed 38 yards for his longest of the season, but John Parker Romo had to kick a 48-yard field goal to end the drive with a score. Virginia Tech’s red zone defense showed its strength at the end of the half and Syracuse settled for a 19-yard field goal that kicker Andre Szmyt missed. Earlier this season, Szmyt became the Orange’s career leader in field goals made. The Hokies were up 19–13 with a promising first half performance on both sides of the ball.
Shrader made some big plays for the Orange coming out of the half, including a 21-yard touchdown run. Szmyt made the PAT to put the Orange up 20–19 early in the second half. Burmeister began to open up his passing game in the second half, but he was not the most accurate and the Orange had solid coverage. Shrader started to get pass-happy as well, but did not find much success either.
With 9:14 left in the third quarter, Robinson returned a punt to give the Hokies excellent field position, and a 26-yard gain from Tré Turner put the Hokies in the red zone. Thomas scored his second touchdown of the game to put the Hokies up 26–20, a dangerous position to be in.
Syracuse regained the lead early in the fourth quarter after a 3-yard quarterback keeper from Shrader on a drive that took six minutes. However, Thomas continued to show out in his breakout game and rushed 45 yards to put the Hokies on Syracuse’s 20-yard line. Being down one, red zone opportunities could not go unscored for Tech. Romo put the Hokies up two with a field goal.
After a strong defensive position from the Hokies, Thomas was back at it. He broke away for a 47-yard touchdown run to make the score 36–27 with 5:36 left in the game, giving Tech a bit of breathing room. However, Syracuse answered quickly with a touchdown from Courtney Jackson, and it was a two-point game again with 2:28 to go.
The Orange had a shot at it with a minute to go, and while the defense seemed strong for a good portion of the drive, it let the 45-yard touchdown pass through and the game was over. Virginia Tech tried for the Hail Mary but was unsuccessful.
“[Shrader] made an incredible throw, got hit right when he threw it and dropped it right in there,” Fuente said.
With the loss, Virginia Tech falls to 3–3 and 1–2 in the ACC. The Hokies have another shot at victory in Atlanta, Georgia, on Oct. 30 against Georgia Tech (3–3, 2–2). Kickoff is at noon.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we're going to bounce back next week,” Thomas said.