The 1999 Hokies squad that went 11-0 during the regular season to reach the national championship game against Florida State scored six defensive touchdowns, including two each in signature victories over Clemson and Syracuse.
Moreover, in eight seasons from 2001-08, Tech tallied 39 defensive scores, nearly five per year and never fewer than four.
All of which makes this stat stand out: Safety Detrick Bonner’s 37-yard pick-six Saturday against Western Carolina was the defense’s first touchdown since the 2010 ACC championship game against Florida State, when linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow returned an interception of EJ Manuel 24 yards.
That’s 29 games without a defensive touchdown, by far Tech’s longest drought in Frank Beamer’s 27 years as head coach. Indeed, the only seasons the defense has failed to score in the Beamer era are 1990, 2011 and 2012.
“That always needs to be a threat,” Beamer said Monday of defensive scores, “and as we started out last year, we had a lot of young guys on defense. I thought we improved as the year went on, the last part of the season we were better.
“I think part of it’s been us and part of it’s just been the way the ball bounces, but hopefully that bounce … if you stay around it long enough, the ball bounces your way a few times. Maybe there’s some more there that we can get.”
Beamer’s “us” part is about playmakers, especially at linebacker and in the secondary, the source of most defensive scores. As voted by media, Tech did not have a first-team, All-ACC defender in 2011 or ’12. Twelve Hokies defenders made first team from 2004-10, at least one in each of those seasons, with cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Macho Harris, linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, and end Chris Ellis scoring multiple touchdowns.
Bonner’s was Tech’s 83rd defensive TD under Beamer. Not surprisingly, the Hokies are a sterling 64-9 in games in which the defense scores, 60-5 since the start of their 20-year bowl streak in 1993.
During Beamer’s tenure, Harris leads Tech with four defensive touchdowns, all on picks. He also returned a kickoff for a score.
Here’s a rewind of five memorable scores from coordinator Bud Foster’s defense:
* Their first Big East title secured, the No. 20 Hokies concluded the 1995 regular season at No. 13 Virginia, where they seized a 1-point lead on Jim Druckenmiller’s late touchdown pass to Jermaine Holmes. With the Cavaliers attempting to counter, cornerback Antonio Banks intercepted Mike Groh and went 65 yards down the sideline as time expired to give Tech a 36-29 victory.
* The Hokies’ bid to repeat as Big East champs in 1996 hinged on a November game at No. 18 Miami, where they never had won. Trailing 14-7, the Hurricanes drove to a fourth-and-4 at Tech’s 8 with two minutes remaining. Reserve quarterback Scott Covington, subbing for the injured Ryan Clement, threw toward receiver Tony Gaiter in the end zone, but safety Keion Carpenter intercepted at the goal line and raced 100 yards for the clinching score in a 21-7 victory.
* Nursing a 17-11 lead over Clemson deep into the fourth quarter, the 1999 Hokies scored two defensive touchdowns in the final 3:10 to seal a 31-11 win. Cornerback Ike Charlton returned an interception of Brandon Streeter 34 yards, after which end Corey Moore sacked Streeter, and forced, recovered and returned a fumble 32 yards for another TD.
* Fresh off its first loss of 2003, a 28-7 thumping at West Virginia, Tech appeared no match for undefeated and No. 2 Miami. But early in the second quarter of a scoreless game at Lane Stadium, cornerback DeAngelo Hall forced a Roscoe Parrish fumble and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. The Hokies routed the Hurricanes 31-7 — Eric Green had a 51-yard pick-six in the third quarter — for their first and only victory over a top-five opponent.
* A 14-10 home loss to Boston College in 2007 remains among the most painful in Tech history thanks to Matt Ryan’s two touchdown passes in the final 2:11. In a rematch at the ACC championship game, the Hokies led the Eagles 23-16 with just under 30 seconds left. Time enough for Ryan? On third-and-10 from BC’s 35, end Barry Booker tipped Ryan’s pass, and Adibi intercepted and raced 40 yards to seal a 30-16 win and Orange Bowl invitation.
Tech’s defensive TDs year-by year: