EL PASO, TX -- For the first time in his career, senior quarterback Logan Thomas was knocked out of a game. This one happened to also be his final one in a Virginia Tech uniform.
But it didn't matter against UCLA sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley. With a Sun Bowl-record for rushing yards by a quarterback at halftime, the Bruins got the momentum they needed. A pair of interceptions, including a late pick-six interception thrown by Thomas' replacement, junior quarterback Mark Leal, sealed it, as the Hokies fell 35-12 in the Sun Bowl, their worst bowl loss since the 1998 Gator Bowl, a 42-3 loss to North Carolina.
"I am disappointed we did not function better as an organization," coach Frank Beamer said. "Give UCLA credit, they made more plays than we did. We got down and turned the ball over and it gets out of hand."
With the game's first possession, UCLA wasted little time. Thanks to a 25-yard run by Hundley, the Bruins were in business. And after a pair of Virginia Tech offsides penalties, Hundley broke an attempted tackle by sophomore defensive end Dadi Nicolas and walked seven yards into the end zone for the game's first score and a 7-0 lead with 13:26 left in the first quarter.
The Hokies, though, were quick to respond. Slipping a tackle, Thomas ran up the middle of the field, 19 yards, to set up a big play.
Freshman tight end Kalvin Cline hauled in an impressive, 37-yard pass from Thomas, dragging a tackler down to the one-yard line. On the next play, sophomore running back J.C. Coleman punched in a touchdown from one yard out to tie the game at seven with 8:14 left in the first quarter.
After punts by each team, UCLA got rolling again, in large part due to Hundley's legs. Hundley burst right for 18 yards, to get the Bruins in good position at mid-field. A 27-yard run by sophomore running back Steven Manfro set-up a 36-yard field goal attempt by sophomore kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn. But the Hokies dodged a bullet when his kick sailed wide left.
Both teams would punt, before Thomas sent a jolt of energy through Virginia Tech. On a 25-yard, bruising run up the right sideline, he trucked over freshman linebacker Myles Jack. But three plays later, Thomas got laid out himself. On a three-yard dump pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Joshua Stanford, Thomas was hit high by senior linebacker Jordan Zumwalt and knocked out of the game with a stinger. Zumwalt was whistled for a personal foul. Leal went three and out after going in for Thomas.
"It sucks, I pride myself on being healthy, but that's the way it played out," Thomas said. "I know they got the 15-yard penalty, but it is nowhere near close to what I thought he should get. I really wish I could have played, but everything happens for a reason."
If Thomas' departure didn't swing the momentum, UCLA seized it on the next possession. Two plays into the drive, Hundley got a block and took off, untouched, 86 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. With 9:17 left in the first half, the Bruins took a 14-7 lead.
By halftime, after a 47-yard field goal attempt by junior kicker Michael Branthover sailed wide right, Hundley already had a hefty running total. His 168 yards rushing on just six carries already set a Sun Bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
Thomas, though, didn't look like he was done. He charged out of the tunnel onto the field in the second half with his pads on, but Leal was the one who started the half for the Hokies.
Following punts by each team, Virginia Tech methodically moved the ball, but the drive stalled at the UCLA 38 yard-line. The Hokies caught a break though when Bruins returner Shaquelle Evans fumbled a fair catch on a punt. Eddie D'Antuono recovered the ball for Virginia Tech, but the Hokies went three and out and settled for a 23-yard field goal by Branthover with 3:58 left in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 14-10.
But the Bruins put together an answer in the form of a 12-play, 85-yard drive, that included passes of 32, 13, 15 and 12 yards. It concluded with a four-yard touchdown run by running back Paul Perkins to put UCLA up 21-10 with 14:20 to go.
The real dagger came on the following drive. On third and five, as he was being tackled behind the line of scrimmage, Leal flipped the ball to his right. It was intercepted by Jack, who strolled 24 yards for a touchdown with 13:22 to play and a commanding 28-10 lead.
"Mark will be okay, he just made a couple bad throws," Beamer said. "When we get down they get to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback and it's not a likely situation for someone who has not gotten a lot of reps during the season stepping in against a really good defense."
With 9:38 to play, the Bruins committed one of their few mistakes of the game, when punter Sean Covington stepped on the end line, resulting in a safety. But two plays later, the Hokies gave the ball right back when Leal was intercepted by Zumwalt, who returned the ball 43 yards to the 10 yard-line.
The result was UCLA salting the victory with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Hundley to freshman wide receiver Thomas Duarte with 7:31 to play for a 35-12 lead.
On their next possession, the Bruins poured it on with a 59-yard pass from Hundley to Evans. With 5:49, they added to their lead, 42-12. Leading 14-10 at the end of the third quarter, UCLA put up 28 points to finish the game.
Virginia Tech finishes 8-5 on the season, in what was the final game for Thomas and the Hokies' 12 seniors.
"It was extremely hard to watch the game play out the way it did," Thomas said. "I would rather hear you guys talk bad about me all day long than sit out and watch the game from the sideline."