BLACKSBURG, Va. — Take away all but the final minute of the first half, and it felt like Duke was in perfect position to pull off a shocker in Lane Stadium.
The game, though, was irreversibly changed 25 seconds before the break. Duke was leading 20-10 and already in field goal range at the Virginia Tech 29-yard line. But Sean Renfrees pass bounced off Conner Vernons hands and into those of Detrick Bonner, who returned the ball 39 yards.
On the next play, Logan Thomas hit Bonner with a 42-yard touchdown pass, making it 17 straight points for the suddenly surging Hokies.
That was huge for us, safety Jordon Byas said. Weve got to do better in those types of situations. That gave them a lot of momentum going into the half.
The Hokies wound up scoring 41 unanswered points en route to a 41-20 win, an outcome that seemed impossible way back in the first quarter. For Virginia Tech, it was the largest comeback of the Frank Beamer era, a period dating back to 1987.
Duke (5-2, 2-1 ACC) could not match the Hokies physicality and actually lost yards in the third quarter while Virginia Tech was pulling away.
It took less than two minutes for Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1) to take the lead in the second half. The Hokies opened with a four-play 78-yard scoring drive. Thomas completed a 30-yard pass on third-and-7 from his own 25-yard line, and J.C. Coleman broke free for a 45-yard touchdown run on the next play to make it 24-20.
We took a big blow again, quickly, head coach David Cutcliffe said. That was tough.
Dukes defense could not contain the more athletic Hokies, as Virginia Tech converted two long third downs on its next drive en route to another unanswered touchdown. Thomas came up with a big pass on third-and-13 at the Duke 47-yard line, and Marcus Davis burned Duke reserve Garett Patterson for a touchdown. Suddenly, the Hokies had a 31-20 lead.
Duke had a bit of hope in the fourth quarter, facing first-and-10 at the Virginia Tech 12-yard line with about 9:30 remaining. Jamison Crowder caught a ball in the back of the end zone on third down, but he was ruled out of bounds. Left tackle Takoby Cofield jumped offsides on fourth-and-7 from the 9-yard line, and Renfrees ensuing pass was well-defended and incomplete.
Virginia Tech running back JC Coleman took the next snap 86 yards for a touchdown.
The game had started out so promising for Duke, as the Blue Devils scored 20 points in the first quarter. Duke scored points on all three of its first-quarter drives and added a defensive touchdown for good measure. The Hokie faithful were actually booing as early as Virginia Techs second offensive snap.
Renfree found Jamison Crowder, who beat Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller in man coverage, for a 62-yard touchdown to opening the scoring. Ross Martin kicked field goals of 40 and 28 yards and Byas took advantage of a bobbled swing pass, taking the ball out of Tony Gregorys reach for a 20-yard, pick six defensive touchdown.
Its difficult emotionally and it feels like our bubble burst, Cutcliffe said. I told the team that you have to let this go from an emotions standpoint.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; @laurakeeley