Just when Virginia Tech looked like it was about to be in serious trouble Saturday night, a familiar scenario helped the Hokies seal a win for the third consecutive game.
Tech defeated Nebraska 35-30 with a strong performance in all three facets, and a little help from some late defensive penalties by Nebraska. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor led Tech's offense, which finished with a season-best 377 yards, including 206 rushing. Taylor, a Hampton High graduate, was 9-of-15 passing for 171 yards. He added 87 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries
Leading 28-23 in the fourth quarter after an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown by Nebraska's Nate Swift, Tech found itself facing third-and-4 on Nebraska's 37-yard line with 4:13 remaining. Taylor rolled right and kept the ball for a 2-yard gain, but Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh was penalized for hitting him late on the Cornhuskers' sideline.
"I was laying there already and saw somebody coming -- actually (Tech tight end) Greg Boone was trying to help me up and the guy hit me," Taylor said. "I don't know how late it was, but that's what happened."
Tech had 15 yards tacked on to the end of the play by virtue of the penalty, moving the Hokies to the Cornhuskers' 20 and giving them a first down. Before the ball was snapped for the next play, Nebraska had another meltdown when coach Bo Pelini was penalized 10 yards for dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct, putting Tech at the 10.
"I was surprised he threw the flag," Pelini said. "I have to be smarter than that.
It was the third consecutive game in which late personal fouls helped Virginia Tech win. Georgia Tech and North Carolina also committed critical 15-yard penalties in the fourth quarter.
Taylor scored three plays after Pelini's dead-ball penalty on a 2-yard run to push Tech's lead to 35-23 with 2:28 remaining. It looked to be enough for Tech to escape, but Nebraska still had something left on offense.
Quarterback Joe Ganz led the Cornhuskers on a four play, 80-yard drive that consumed just 56 seconds. Ganz capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Todd Peterson to cut Tech's lead to 35-30.
Tech recovered an onside kick by Nebraska, but was held to three plays and a punt on the ensuing drive. Nebraska took over at its own 10 with 25 seconds left and managed to cross midfield on two pass plays, but Peterson fumbled near Tech's 45 after a reception. Tech's Stephan Virgil forced the fumble, which Dorian Porch recovered to preserve the win with five seconds left.
"I just told our team we've got to learn from this one because we had them a couple of times," Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
Tech got the scoring started in the first quarter with vintage Beamerball. After Tech held Nebraska to eight yards on three plays on the Cornhuskers' second drive of the game, Virgil blocked Dan Titchener's punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety to put the Hokies up 2-0 with 8:35 left in the quarter. It was Tech's fourth block of the season, and first blocked punt.
Tech's defense capitalized on a huge mistake by Ganz on Nebraska's next offensive play. Cornerback Victor Harris intercepted his second pass of the season when he picked off Ganz and returned it 15 yards to Nebraska's 5-yard line with 6:38 left in the first quarter.
Running back Darren Evans converted the interception into the first touchdown of the game three plays later on a 1-yard run to boost Tech's lead to 9-0 with 5:22 remaining in the first quarter. Evans was sprung free by a big block from fullback Kenny Jefferson on the touchdown run.
Ganz bounced back in a hurry on Nebraska's next drive, completing both of his pass attempts for 59 yards to tight end Mike McNeill, including a 32-yard touchdown pass with 3:54 left in the first quarter.
Tech went on to take an 18-10 lead into halftime on the strength of three second quarter field goals by Dustin Keys. Tech gained 198 yards in the first half, a significant departure from its anemic offensive efforts in the first four games of the season. The Hokies averaged just 272 yards coming into Saturday's game.
The third quarter opened with Tech tacking on another field goal on its first drive. Keys' 36-yarder with 10:25 left pushed Tech's advantage to 21-10.
Nebraska was held to three plays and a punt on its next drive. Harris put Tech in good shape after the punt with a 21-yard return to put the ball at the Cornhuskers' 33. Evans went back to work, running three times and scoring on a 19-yard run to extend Tech's lead to 28-10 with 6:54 remaining in the quarter.
Though Tech seemed safe with an 18-point lead, Nebraska wasn't out of it. Ganz completed 4 of 4 passes for 41 yards on the Cornhuskers' next drive, which lasted 12 plays and covered 75 yards. Running back Roy Helu finished it off with a 12-yard touchdown to cut Tech's lead to 28-17 with four seconds left in the third quarter.Swift's punt return for a touchdown helped make it a game, but Nebraska was hurt by inefficiency in the second half. The Cornhuskers, who had 333 yards in the game, converted just 1 of 4 third-down opportunities in the second half, and 2 of 11 for the game.