By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Virginia Tech’s defense struggled to stop Marshall all day long. The offense was getting almost nothing on an improved Thundering Herd defense.
When all else fails, there is always BeamerBall.
A blocked punt led to the Hokies’ first touchdown, and Tech blocked a potential game-winning field goal in overtime. In the end, Tech made enough plays and caught enough breaks to defeat the Herd 29-21 in triple overtime on a rainy Saturday at Lane Stadium/Worsham Field.
The Hokies withstood a big challenge from the Herd (2-2) to come away with the 700th win in program history in front of 64,060 drenched fans.
“I’m proud of the kids. I’m proud of the way they played, but we all know there are no moral victories at Marshall,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said. “We came here to win the football game. Virginia Tech just made one more play at the end than we did.”
That one play was quarterback Logan Thomas’ two-point conversion run after he scored from two yards out in the third overtime.
Thomas was held in check much of the afternoon. He was sacked twice — once with less than a minute left in regulation, the other in the first overtime — and threw interceptions on consecutive series in the first half.
But the 6-fooot-6, 254-pound senior was able to make just enough plays to snatch the game from the Herd’s grasps.
“We couldn’t have a better leader than Logan,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “He’s tough and we’re happy to follow the guy.”
Marshall led 21-14 at halftime behind an offense the Hokies (3-1), who were second in the nation in total defense going in, could not stop. Quarterback Rakeem Cato threw two touchdown passes and ran four yards for another, but he also kept plays alive with his feet.
The junior from Miami had 15 carries for 46 yards, including a career-long 22-yard gain that seemed to trigger the offense halfway through the first quarter.
The Herd fell behind right off the bat. Marshall got into Hokie territory on the first drive of the game, but a false start penalty and 12-yard loss after a bad snap set up fourth-and-23 at the Marshall 34.
Kyle Fuller blocked Tyler Williams’ punt and Derek DiNardo picked it up at the 11 and ran it in for a touchdown and 7-0 Tech lead.
Marshall, however, was unfazed. A 12-yard touchdown reception by Devon Smith tied the game, and even after Thomas’ 2-yard TD put Tech back on top, the Herd kept rolling.
Aided by two facemask penalties, a 19-yard run by Cato and an 18-yard reception by Tommy Shuler, Marshall got insiide Tech’s 10. On second-and-goal from the 4, Cato went right and dove into the end zone to knot things up at 14-14.
An interception by Monterius Lovett, the seventh of his career, set up the go-ahead touchdown, a 13-yarder from Cato to tight end Gator Hoskins. The TD came one play after Hoskins got into a tussle with freshman cornerback Kendall Fulller, on which off-setting unsportsmanlike penalties were assessed.
Defensively, the Herd came up with stops to help preserve the 21-14 lead, including a stop of Thomas on fourth-and-1 at the Marshall 10 with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
But the Herd also failed to convert offensively at a pair of key moments. Justin Haig missed wide left on a 41-yard field goal in the third, and Cato was interceped in the end zone by Kyshoen Jarrett with 1:07 remaining, after Tech had tied the game at 21-21 on Thomas’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Willie Byrn after Herd cornerback Darryl Roberts got a hand on the ball.
That helped set up overtime, when conservative play calling slowed the Herd down.
The Hokies got the ball first and could not score after kicker Ethan Keyserling — playing in place of Cody Journell, who was suspended for the game for violating team rules — was well short on a 50-yard field goal attempt.
Marshall then ran on three consecutive plays — all 1-yard gains by Essray Taliaferro — and was content with Haig’s 39-yard attempt. The kick was blocked by Derrick Hopkins.
Tech now has 39 blocks under Beamer.
“I thought at that point it was sloppy out there,” Holliday said. “I felt that he had been consistent from the 25-yard line and we felt that he could put us in a position to win the game. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
Marshall’s possession in the second overtime was disastrous. Hopkins sacked Cato for a loss of three on second-and-10, then Cato was sacked again by J.R. Collins.
Collins was able to pop the ball loose and Hopkins returned it for what looked to be the game-winning touchdown, but the 6-0, 311-pound tackle was caught by Taliaferro.
“We came after them a little more today,” Beamer said. “I thought we played great on special teams. We got back to the way we want to do things.”
The Hokies then attempted a 22-yard field goal on the ensuing drive, but Keyserling’s kick was wide left.
Tech finally claimed the lead in the third OT on Thomas’ TD and conversion, and the Herd had one more shot. But on fourth-and-9 from the 14, Cato’s pass into the end zone went through Davonte Allen’s arms as the Hokie faithful cheered and breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Taliaferro ran 26 times for 105 yards for the Herd, but had only four yards on four carries combined in overtime.
Cato was 19-of-41 for 228 yards and the two scores, but was also intercepted twice and sacked four times. Shuler had 10 receptions for 120 yards.
Thomas completed 18 of 34 passes for 181 yards. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds ran for a game-high 110 yards — 43 on one carry on the Hokies’ game-tying drive.
The Hokies have a short turnaround, travelling to Georgia Tech Thursday.
Marshall will take next week off before starting Conference USA play Saturday, Oct. 5, at home against UTSA. Kickoff will be 2 p.m.
The Herd came away from the physical game a little banged up, including Smith, Hoskins, defensive end Ra’Shawde Myers and linebacker Evan McKelvey, so the bye week is perfectly placed.
“I’m glad we have an open week this week before we get into conference play,” Holliday said. “We can get guys healthy before we start conference. We’re done with our first four games and we get a break here so we have to take this week to get back healthy.”
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VIRGINIA TECH 29, MARSHALL 21, 3OT
Marshall 7 14 0 0 0 0 0 — 21
Virginia Tech 14 0 0 7 0 0 8 — 29
VT—DiNardo 11 blocked punt return (Keyserling kick), 13:00.
Mar—D.Smith 12 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 7:56.
VT—Thomas 2 run (Keyserling kick), 1:27.
Mar—Cato 4 run (Haig kick), 13:59.
Mar—Hoskins 13 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 9:06.
VT—Byrn 2 pass from Thomas (Keyserling kick), 3:09.
VT—Thomas 2 run (Thomas run).
First downs 22 23
Rushes-yards 46-133 53-201
Passing 228 181
Comp-Att-Int 19-41-2 18-34-2
Return Yards 37 43
Punts-Avg. 5-35.8 5-44.2
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 11-66 4-45
Time of Possession 26:39 33:21
RUSHING—Marshall, Taliaferro 26-105, Cato 15-46, Watson 1-0, Butler 1-(minus 4), Team 3-(minus 14). Virginia Tech, Edmunds 22-110, Thomas 23-58, Mangus 6-18, Hughes 1-12, Rogers 1-3.
PASSING—Marshall, Cato 19-41-2-228. Virginia Tech, Thomas 18-34-2-181.
RECEIVING—Marshall, Shuler 10-120, D.Smith 4-68, Evans 3-16, Hoskins 1-13, E.Frohnapfel 1-11. Virginia Tech, Stanford 4-43, Mangus 3-47, Knowles 3-21, Coles 2-32, Cline 2-20, Byrn 2-15, Rogers 1-5, Caleb 1-(minus 2).