GREENVILLE — Every time the Virginia Tech offense and special teams gave East Carolina a chance to win on Saturday, the Hokies’ defense took it away.
Virginia Tech overcame a series of kicking errors and a stagnant offense to edge East Carolina 15-10 on Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Hokies (2-1) got a safety after a sack from defensive end James Gayle with 1:31 left in the game to hold on for its fourth straight win over the Pirates (2-1). It wasn’t for a lack of opportunities or effort from ECU’s defense, though.
Sophomore receiver Bryce Williams, who scored ECU’s only touchdown, said the Pirates’ defense, which was suspect in the season-opening win over Old Dominion, did more than its part.
“We didn’t execute the opportunities that we had,” said Williams, who caught a 22-yard touchdown pass on ECU’s opening drive.
Since beating Virginia Tech in the 2008 opener, ECU has lost 11 of 12 games against ACC teams. Fourth-year coach Ruffin McNeill wasn’t necessarily interested in figuring out the meaning of losing Saturday’s game or whether or not it was a big game for the Pirates.
“They’re all big to me,” McNeill said. “ODU was big, try losing that one.”
After the first drive, it looked like the Pirates would cruise. Junior quarterback Shane Carden (19 of 31, 158 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions) led a five-play drive that covered 75 yards in 1 minute and 39 seconds.
Running back Vintavious Cooper ran for 11 yards and caught a screen for 24 yards to set up Williams’ touchdown. Carden hit Williams in the seam for a 22-yard strike.
“That first drive, we just felt we were going to get it running,” Williams said.
And Carden, who threw for 638 yards in the first two games, thought the Pirates’ offense was just getting started.
“We felt like that’s how we’ll move the ball on them,” Carden said. “We weren’t able to do that the rest of the game.”
After going 75 yards on five plays, ECU’s offense would only get 129 on 49 plays the rest of the game. The 204 yards of total offense was about 200 off of ECU’s average in the first two games of the season.
“I thought our defense played great,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
It was the other two aspects of the game that gave the Hokies problems. Senior quarterback Logan Thomas threw for a pair of touchdowns and completed 25 of 43 attempts for 258 yards, but he also threw an interception. ECU linebacker Montese Overton dropped another interception in the fourth quarter which could have turned into a touchdown for the Pirates.
The problems with Thomas and the Hokies’ ground game, which gained 53 yards on 34 attempts, were secondary to the issues with Virginia Tech kicker Cody Journell.
In the second half, Journell missed four kicks, costing the Hokies at least 10 points. The senior missed an extra point after D.J. Coles’ 3-yard touchdown catch gave Tech a 13-10 lead at 4:09 in the third quarter.
After a second interception from cornerback Brandon Facyson gave Virginia Tech the ball at ECU’s 22-yard line, Journell missed a 38-yard field goal with 50 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Then he missed a 40-yarder at 9:22 in the fourth quarter. Tariq Edwards picked off Carden on ECU’s next possession to preserve the 13-10 lead and Virginia Tech drove down to ECU’s 15-yard line. Beamer, whose program was built in large part on special teams success, decided to send out Journell for a 32-yard attempt.
That also missed but the Hokies got a second chance after a running into the kicker penalty made it fourth-and-1 from the 11. ECU’s defense bowed up and stopped Thomas on a sneak to give the ball back to the offense.
Carden was sacked on first down and then again on second down. The latter caused a fumble in the end zone, recovered by ECU’s left tackle Ike Harris.
The ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful and Virginia Tech milked the clock and the home crowd of 50,096 expressed their displeasure with the result.
“We came up on the short end of the score, but that doesn’t deter my belief in our kids,” McNeill said. “We’ll bounce back.”