After allowing nearly 400 yards through the air in the team’s last two games, few position groups were more harshly criticized than the Hokies’ secondary.
This avalanche of criticism made it especially sweet when embattled defensive backs Michael Cole and Detrick Bonner nabbed game-changing interceptions in the team’s stunning 41-20 comeback win against Duke.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time; to go out there and make a play for my teammates, so it felt great to be able to do that,” Cole said.
The interception was the first of the redshirt freshman’s career, while Bonner’s was his second. Both came at critical moments in the game. Cole’s led to a Cody Journell field goal, while Bonner’s came right before the half and led to a touchdown.
“We were down 20-17, so it was a big game changer and I felt like that was the real start of our comeback there,” Bonner said.
Both players hadn’t exactly performed up to par throughout the early part of the season, so coaches were very pleased to see them create these turnovers to continue the tradition of Virginia Tech’s play-making defense.
“How many times has it been that our defense has gone out there and made a play that’s turned the game around?” said head coach Frank Beamer. “And thank goodness we got that out of Michael Cole, a guy who’s been getting better every week.”
Cole wasn’t expected to see the field much coming into the season, but the secondary’s been shuffled frequently in an effort to patch some of the defense’s holes, and he’s been forced into the starting lineup as a rover at a very young age.
“You see the guy getting a little bit better all the time,” Beamer said. “He wants to, he’s a great kid, a very smart guy, tough guy, and that was a big, big play. You talk about huge right before the half, that turned the game around.”
Although he’s frequently struggled with tackling in the open field and covering speedy receivers, Cole believes he will only get better as the season progresses.
“I just want to keep improving; keep getting better at all the little things like tackling, reading my keys, stuff like that,” Cole said. “Nobody’s really reached what they need to do yet, so I’ll keep coming out here every day and doing that.”
While he’s grateful for being able to make the play, even Cole admitted that Duke quarterback Anthony Boone made it pretty painless for him to grab the interception.
“It doesn’t really get any easier, he just kind of threw it up there,” Cole said. “Any turnover gives us momentum and Detrick’s interception, that was big too, we’re just doing our best to help out our offense and give them good field position.”
It’s hard to deny that Bonner’s play was also critical to the team’s success, as his subsequent 39-yard return of the interception put the team in the perfect position to score, but he still regrets that he missed the opportunity to take it into the end zone himself.
“I was thinking about taking it back, but I couldn’t get past the last man for a touchdown,” Bonner said.