ORLANDO, Fla. - When one team is inept on offense, you get a one-sided game. But when both teams are offensively-challenged, you get tonight's game.
In a game that saw a Russell Athletic Bowl-record 21 punts, Rutgers kicker Nick Borgese missed a 42-yard field goal in overtime to give Virginia Tech a come-from-behind 13-10 win. Junior kicker Cody Journell hit a 22-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime for the difference. The Hokies now claim their 20th straight winning season.
"Nothing came easy for us and a lot of it is just got to hang in there," coach Frank Beamer said. "But you know, not everything in life is real smooth and I think these players, they're all winners. We worked hard."
And the most valuable player, junior cornerback Antone Exum, has been in the news all week. He gave away his gift card he was given by the bowl at Best Buy to three children from the Bahamas he'd met in the store.
Tonight, he had a clutch interception that set up the Hokies' first touchdown and was named MVP after the game.
"I think God works in mysterious ways," Exum said. "It's a blessing to get the MVP award and come out with the win tonight. As far as the gift giving goes, that was probably one of the highlights of my trip, to be able to see the smile on those kids' faces. It definitely means a lot."
But it didn't come in a pretty fashion.
On the second play of the game, Virginia Tech botched a snap at its own 22, which junior quarterback Logan Thomas chased into the end zone. Rutgers senior linebacker Khaseem Greene pounced on the ball in the end zone and just 17 seconds into the game, the Scarlet Knights had a 7-0 lead.
The Hokies had some good pass coverage early, with a deflection and a Bruce Taylor batted down pass. But Rutgers extended the lead to 10-0 with 2:38 left in the first quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Borgese.
Unable to get going on offense, the Scarlet Knights kept the game close. Hokies sophomore safety Detrick Bonner nearly hauled in an over-the-shoulder interception in the end zone. Rutgers then came up short on fourth down and three with an incomplete pass with 7:59 left in the half.
On the Scarlet Knights' next fourth down, with seven to go at the Virginia Tech 36 yard-line, they downed a pooch punt at the Hokies' two yard-line. Thomas was intercepted on the ensuing drive by Rutgers senior cornerback Brandon Jones at the Scarlet Knights' 19 yard-line.
With Virginia Tech seemingly getting one more opportunity in the half, senior Kyle Fuller was whistled for a running into the kicker penalty, giving Rutgers a first down. The Scarlet Knights couldn't get going on the two ensuing plays, though and let the clock run out.
Both teams went back and forth in the third quarter, with two punts apiece, while the Hokies picked up just six yards of offense on six plays. But out of nowhere, the Virginia Tech offense emerged and drove 62 yards in six plays, capped by a 25-yard field goal by Journell to cut the deficit to 10-3 with 12:14 to play.
Throughout the game, the Hokies had their chances for interceptions. On the ensuing drive, Exum intercepted quarterback Gary Nova and returned the ball 32 yards to the Rutgers 21 yard-line. Three plays later, Thomas hit senior wide receiver Corey Fuller on a fade route for a 21-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10 with 10:56 to play.
"They played tough the entire day," Thomas said. "Everything they did, they made it tough, all the replays they had it out pretty well. And in the passing game, they were playing with us all the time. They would show us one thing, drop out and show us another and stay there when we were expecting them to drop out. We finally got into a groove of what we were expecting them to do and we started picking up things time after time."
Rain soon fell steadily afterward and both teams went three and out on their next possessions. But the slippery football played in the Hokies' favor when Nova couldn't handle a snap, fumbled and Virginia Tech junior defensive end Tyrel Wilson recovered. But the Hokies lost yards on three plays and were forced to punt.
After forcing a Rutgers punt, Virginia Tech got the ball back and set up a long field goal attempt from 51 yards. But Journell, whose longest make this season was from 42 yards, came up short of the goal post.
The Hokies forced another punt, with 1:47 to play, but on the drive's first play, Thomas threw a deep pass that was intercepted by Jones at the Scarlet Knights' 31 yard-line.
Three straight incompletions forced another punt by Rutgers but Virginia Tech couldn't do anything with the ball either and forced overtime.
With the ball first, Thomas his senior wide receiver Marcus Davis for an 18-yard gain to the four yard-line. Journell hit a 22-yard field goal, before Rutgers was pushed back and missed a 42-yard field goal to end the game.
"They battled and we found a way to win the football game," Beamer said. "You win or lose as a team. You can say what you want to, but every group has to do their thing."
Davis also fell 10 yards short of breaking the school record for single-season receiving yards. He finished with 62 yards tonight, giving him 952 yards this season.