Hokies To Charlotte

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Virginia Tech clinched a spot in the ACC title game this weekend.

Virginia Tech clinched a spot in the ACC title game this weekend.

Not that long ago, Virginia Tech was a team that couldn’t find a way to win a game. These days, Virginia Tech is a team that’s starting to look like it might not lose again.

The Hokies clinched the Coastal Division title Saturday with their 31–17 victory over Miami, earning a spot in the ACC championship game for the fourth time in six seasons. They extended their winning streak to nine games, their longest since 1999, as their 0–2 start to the season became even smaller in the rear-view mirror.

Back in September, after a six-day stretch in which Virginia Tech lost to Boise State and then got upset at home by Football Championship Subdivision member James Madison, such a surge seemed improbable. But the ACC’s most disappointing team through the season’s first two weeks now has a chance to accomplish many of the goals it set before the season started.

If the Hokies (9–2, 7–0 ACC) beat rival Virginia this week, they’ll reach 10 victories for the seventh consecutive season. They also will become the first ACC team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000.

Neither achievement measures up to Virginia Tech’s ultimate goal of winning a national championship, but that dream for 2010 died early. The Hokies deserve credit for not letting that disappointment kill the rest of their season.

Scoreboard
Boston College 17, Virginia 13
N.C. State 29, North Carolina 25
Georgia Tech 30, Duke 20
Clemson 30, Wake Forest 10
Virginia Tech 31, Miami 17
Florida State 30, Maryland 16

Atlantic Division now a two-team race

Maryland suffered its first home loss of the season against Florida State, falling out of contention for the Atlantic Division title in the process. But the Terrapins (7–4, 4–3) still will have a say in which team lines up against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.
If Maryland beats NC State this week, the Seminoles will go to the title game as the Atlantic Division’s representative. If the Wolfpack prevail, they will take on the Hokies.

Florida State (8–3, 6–2) is the leader in the clubhouse, having completed its conference schedule with a half-game lead on NC State. But the Wolfpack (8–3, 5–2) remained in control of the division with their victory at North Carolina, and they own the tiebreaker over Florida State based on their 28–24 win over the Seminoles on Oct. 28.

“It’s everything we’ve worked for,” NC State quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Since Day 1 when I got here, I’ve had ups and downs. But our team is really together right now, and that means a lot. …

“We have an opportunity, and now we have to get ready for this week and seize the moment.”

Pack’s seniors get sweep

NC State did more than move one win away from the Atlantic Division title over the weekend. The Wolfpack also got a rivalry win, knocking off North Carolina (6–5, 3–4) for the fourth year in a row. NC State had beaten the Tar Heels four times in a row during just one previous stretch, a string of five consecutive wins from 1988-92.

“It’s everything,” NC State wide receiver Darrell Davis said. “Being a guy from Florida, I didn’t know much about this rivalry before I got here. The people showed me how this rivalry is to them, how much it means to them. Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike this team as well.”

The lack of warm feelings was evident after the biggest play of the game, a 2-yard touchdown catch by NC State’s Owen Spencer on fourth down late in the third quarter that cut North Carolina’s lead to 19–17. Spencer pulled in the pass, which NC State coach Tom O’Brien called “a prayer,” after it was deflected by UNC safety Da’Norris Searcy and Davis.

NC State wide receiver Jarvis Williams and North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick were ejected from the game for their role in a scrum immediately after the play.

“I just think it was a big turning point for us,” Davis said, “and we used it as something positive instead of something negative.”

NC State outscored North Carolina 19–6 in the game’s final 16 minutes, going ahead for good on an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by T.J. Graham early in the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack’s defense took it from there, holding the Tar Heels to a net minus-7 yards rushing for the game on the strength of seven sacks.

Let’s go bowling

The ACC entered the weekend with three teams that needed one more victory to become bowl-eligible. All three teams won, extending some impressive streaks in the process.

Boston College knocked off Virginia to gain bowl eligibility for the 12th consecutive season, winning their fourth game in a row after a season-jeopardizing five-game losing streak. The Eagles (6–5, 4–4) became just the fifth team in ACC history to win their final four league games after losing their first four league games.

Clemson picked up its first road win of the season at Wake Forest, recording its 12th consecutive six-win season. The Tigers (6–5, 4–4) also finished at .500 or better in ACC play for the 12th year in a row.

Georgia Tech extended its bowl-eligibility streak to 14 seasons after rallying from a 13–6 halftime deficit to defeat Duke. The Yellow Jackets (6–5, 4–4), who snapped a three-game losing streak, have finished at .500 or better in conference play each of the last 16 seasons.

The ACC now has nine bowl-eligible teams, meaning the conference can fulfill all of its bowl agreements. The league has guaranteed tie-ins with eight bowl games and an option for a ninth, so all nine teams should be able to play in the postseason.

Eagles’ Harris hurting

Boston College improved to 5–0 all time against Virginia, but the victory came at a cost. Tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (113.0 yards per game), suffered cartilage damage in his left knee on the final play of the third quarter. Harris, who rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries against the Cavaliers, did not return to the game. His status for this week’s game at Syracuse is questionable at best.

Harris, who is second on Boston College’s career rushing list with 3,600 yards, has rushed for more yardage than any junior in ACC history. If he can’t play or is limited against the Orange, freshman Andre Williams will carry the load. Williams rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries against Virginia, giving the Eagles a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 2006.

Bowers, Tigers tough on defense

Da’Quan Bowers has been so dominant all season that his individual performance has overshadowed the success of Clemson’s team defense. After limiting Wake Forest to 205 total yards, the Tigers lead the ACC and rank ninth nationally in points allowed (16.7 per game). They also have allowed just one offensive touchdown in six consecutive games, the second longest streak in school history.

The Demon Deacons emptied their playbook to try to get something going against the Tigers, letting wide receivers Chris Givens and Marshall Williams each attempt a pass on trick plays. But nothing worked until the fourth quarter, when the game already had been decided.

“Give Clemson credit,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “There are some really good defenses in this league, but I don’t know that there’s any defense better than the one we just played.”

Bowers, of course, has played a big part from his defensive end position. He had two more sacks against Wake Forest, giving him at least one sack in a school-record ninth consecutive game. Bowers now has 15.5 sacks this season, just shy of the school record (16) that Keith Adams set in 1999.

Terrapins lose more linemen

Maryland’s offensive line has been a revolving door for much of the season, a fact that makes the team’s improvement from last year even more remarkable. The Terrapins, who already had lost starting tackles Justin Gilbert and Pete DeSouza to season-ending injuries, endured more misfortune against Florida State.

Center Bennett Fulper (hand) and right guard Justin Lewis (knee) went down in the first half against the Seminoles, causing massive shuffling up front. Right tackle Paul Pinegar replaced Fulper at center, left tackle R.J. Dill moved over to right tackle, and true freshman Max Garcia entered the game at left tackle. Pete White replaced Lewis in a straight switch.

The changes kept the Terrapins afloat in the short term — they rushed for 163 yards and allowed only two sacks against a Florida State defense that was averaging an NCAA-best 3.9 sacks per game — but Maryland will have to pay a price in the future. Garcia, who had been planning to redshirt this season, will lose a year of eligibility.

Some good news for Maryland: X-rays on Fulper’s hand were negative, and he was able to return to the game in the second half.

“That is an area that we can’t sustain many more losses,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said, “but our team stuck in there right to the very end.”

Morris finally looks like a freshman

Miami true freshman quarterback Stephen Morris had been stellar in place of Jacory Harris, who missed his third consecutive game as he recovers from a concussion, until the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech. But Morris threw three interceptions in the final period against the Hokies, and the Hurricanes (7–4, 5–3) finished with six turnovers for the first time since a game against Virginia Tech in 1999.

Morris, who had been 12 of 18 for 168 yards and a touchdown through three quarters, completed just 3 of 15 passes for 34 yards in the fourth. He also was hurt by the fact that Travis Benjamin dropped what would have been a 64-yard touchdown pass.

“They made the plays, and we didn’t,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “When you watch it, it’s heartache because the guys played hard, but we just couldn’t come up with the plays at the right time, and they did.”

Duke’s Brown goes down

Duke lost one of its best defensive players to a serious injury in its defeat at Georgia Tech. True freshman Kelby Brown, who has started the last seven games at middle linebacker, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee against the Yellow Jackets.

Brown sat out the first two games of the season with the intention to redshirt, but his play in practice was so strong that he forced himself on the field. He leads the nation in fumble recoveries per game (0.44) and ranks second among all ACC rookies with 7.3 tackles per game.

“It is unfortunate that Kelby’s fine freshman season ends prematurely,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “It is really tough for a freshman to arrive on campus in June and start seven games at middle linebacker, and he did just that. We know he is in great hands with our medical staff — it is the best in the country — and we’re confident Kelby will overcome this obstacle and be back as soon as possible.”

Extra points

• Clemson tailback Andre Ellington missed his third consecutive game with a foot injury, but Jamie Harper capably carried the load in his absence for the second week in a row. A week after rushing for 143 yards and a touchdown and catching nine passes for 54 yards at Florida State, Harper rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown in addition to catching three passes for 39 yards at Wake Forest. Harper became the first Clemson player with at least 140 rushing yards in back-to-back games since James Davis in 2005.

• Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw 14 interceptions during his team’s six-game losing streak earlier this season, but he has avoided throwing an interception for four games in a row. Renfree, who passed for 334 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech, has not thrown an interception in his last 157 pass attempts.

• Florida State tailback Chris Thompson ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run for Florida State’s first points against Maryland. Thompson, who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, became the first player in school history with three touchdown runs of at least 70 yards in the same season.

• Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair had to handle the punting chores against Duke after a pair of injuries. Starting punter Sean Poole needed surgery after slipping on a curb at a convenience store last week, and backup Chandler Anderson was sidelined with a strained hamstring. Blair, who made field goals of 41, 43 and 44 yards against the Blue Devils, averaged 46 yards on two punts.

• Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson had six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Virginia Tech, scoring a touchdown for the sixth consecutive game. Hankerson broke the school record for touchdown catches in a season (12), surpassing the previous mark of 11 set by Michael Irvin in 1986.

• North Carolina’s T.J. Yates completed 33 of 44 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns against N.C. State, setting a school record for completions in a game and throwing for more than 400 yards for the third time this season. Yates also broke his own single-season record for passing yards and became UNC’s all-time leader in passing yards. He has thrown for 8,879 yards in his career, surpassing the previous mark of 8,755 yards set by Darian Durant.

• North Carolina senior Anthony Elzy caught nine passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against NC State, setting a single-game school record for receiving yards by a running back. Elzy, who had nine catches for 37 yards in UNC’s first nine games, has 16 receptions for 280 yards in the last two games.

• NC State received a nice boost against North Carolina thanks to the return of senior kicker Josh Czajkowski, who previously had been declared out for the season with a hamstring injury. Czajkowski made both of his field-goal tries, a 47-yarder and a 24-yarder, and all three of his extra points. “I told him on the field Thursday after he kicked that he should have done this a long time ago,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien joked. “I said, ‘You should have pulled your hamstring a long time ago because now you’re smooth.’ He even said that he’s kicking the ball better, he feels better and has much better rhythm for what he’s doing. Go figure.”

• Virginia wide receivers Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman became the first teammates in school history to post at least 700 receiving yards in the same season. Burd has 752 yards this season, and Inman has 750 yards.

• Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley came up with his nation-leading eighth interception in the fourth quarter against Miami. Hosley is just one interception shy of Virginia Tech’s single-season school record, set by Ron Davidson in 1967.

• Wake Forest has lost nine consecutive games for the first time since it dropped the final 10 games of the 1978 season. The Demon Deacons’ skid is the second-longest active losing streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

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Athlon recaps another stellar week of action in the ACC.