BLACKSBURG — With memories of a rainy September afternoon loss to JMU nearly a decade ago, Virginia Tech fans couldn’t bear the idea of watching a similar meltdown on Saturday.
Fans took to the exits at halftime with the Hokies trailing by double digits to Furman, an FCS foe that almost pulled off an upset over Georgia State the previous week.
But Virginia Tech came storming back early in the third quarter scoring a pair of touchdowns in less than two minutes and held on for a 24-17 victory.
The final sigh of relief for the Hokies came in the form of an onside recovery by the Paladins that was reversed on replay.
Until Tech seized control of the second onside attempt, the threat of another upset looked all too real.
“We went out there and it challenged us, it showed us like, hey, these guys are no punks,” Tech true freshman running back Keshawn King said. “So we had to go out there and we had to actually work for what we wanted and we got the [win].”
It was King who provided the spark the offense needed. King broke three tackles on his first carry of the second half for a 15-yard gain, but that was only the appetizer for the main course — a 54-yard scamper down to Furman’s 14-yard line.
It was easily Tech’s longest run of the season and set up a 3-yard touchdown run from tight end James Mitchell four plays later.
King finished with a career-high 119 rushing yards and two catches for 22 yards. He would have been in line for an even bigger day if he hadn’t been shaken up on the drive and only played a handful of snaps the rest of the game.
Furman gave the ball right back to Virginia Tech with a fumble on the first play of its ensuing drive. Hokies safety Chamarri Conner made a textbook open-field tackle on a swing pass to running back Devin Wynn and linebacker Dax Hollifield came in at the end of the play to knock it loose at the 26-yard line.
Tech made quick work of the short field with Willis hitting Tre Turner for a 2-yard touchdown to cap off a four-play drive. Turner’s first touchdown of the season gave Tech a 17-14 lead with 8:12 to go in the third quarter.
The first half, which finished with Furman holding a 14-3 lead, gave Virginia Tech plenty to work on during the upcoming bye week thanks to one of the ugliest first half offensive performances in recent memory. The Hokies totaled two turnovers, four penalties, three sacks allowed and 2.6 yards per carry.
Fans booed Tech quarterback Willis in the second quarter after an overthrown ball to Hezekiah Grimsley resulted in an interception. It was the fourth interception — and fifth turnover — of the season for Tech’s starting quarterback. Willis finished 17 of 21 for 123 yards with a touchdown and interception.
“I heard it,” Willis said of the boos. “It’s disappointing. We have a great fanbase. It just shows it means a lot to them. I’m going to do everything in my power to put the best product on the field possible and do everything in my will to get wins every week for this team.”
Furman scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second quarter to take the lead into halftime. Devin Abrams scored from 4 yards out and quarterback Darren Grainger scored on a 15-yard run.
Abrams scored after the defense’s biggest miscue of the half, getting called for an offsides penalty with Furman facing fourth-and-1 at the 11-yard line.
Tech’s defense held Furman to 231 yards and 12 first downs. The Hokies kept Grainger bottled up in the run game and harassed him in the pocket. Tech’s five sacks and two hurries marked a win in the trenches.
“We had to win that matchup,” Fuente said. “They do enough stuff offensively and have enough weapons to scare you to death now. I’m telling you … we had to win the line of scrimmage to try and nullify some of those guys, and I thought for the most part we did.”
Furman nearly earned itself a final chance at evening the score after recovering its onside kick attempt with 1:47 to go. But it was called back because of an illegal blocking penalty after a replay review by the officials.
The Hokies took advantage of the gift. They recovered the ball on the second attempt and ran out the clock.
Furman 0 14 0 3 — 17
Virginia Tech 3 0 14 7 — 24
VT—FG B.Johnson 35, 5:37
FUR—Abrams 4 run (Atkins kick), 14:56
FUR—Grainger 15 run (Atkins kick), 5:35
VT—Mitchell 3 run (B.Johnson kick), 10:00
VT—Turner 2 pass from R.Willis (B.Johnson kick), 8:12
VT—Turner 29 run (B.Johnson kick), 5:04
FUR—FG Atkins 22, 1:49
First downs 12 18
Rushes-yards 42-163 43-227
Passing 68 123
Comp-Att-Int 9-16-1 17-21-1
Return Yards 0 11
Punts-Avg. 6-41.83 4-47.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 3-15 6-40
Time of Possession 30:12 29:48
RUSHING—Furman, Abrams 10-72, Wynn 13-66, Grainger 15-19, Gordon 1-5, Watkins 3-1. Virginia Tech, King 12-119, Turner 5-68, McClease 10-24, Robinson 1-21, Steward 1-3, Mitchell 1-3, R.Willis 10-(minus 5), (Team) 3-(minus 6).
PASSING—Furman, Sisson 1-1-0-5, Grainger 8-15-1-63. Virginia Tech, R.Willis 17-21-1-123.
RECEIVING—Furman, Gordon 4-33, Anderson 2-19, R.Miller 1-8, Wynn 1-5, Armstrong 1-3. Virginia Tech, Robinson 4-31, Turner 4-29, K.Smith 2-22, King 2-16, Keene 2-14, Mitchell 2-10, McClease 1-1.
MISSED FG—Virginia Tech, B.Johnson 50.