BLACKSBURG, VA Jets did a flyover at
Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium just after the national anthem and before
Virginia Tech's kickoff to East Carolina on Saturday. Bands played. The
teams entered the field between lines of supporters.
There was pomp, ceremony, energy and
excitement captured for national television. It was the season opener at
home for a Hokies program with an eye on a national championship.
The occasion also was supposed to be a
time of healing and unity for the Hokies, who were sent reeling last
April by a student gunman who took 33 lives on campus, including his
East Carolina officials, headed by
Chancellor Steve Ballard, presented Virginia governor Tim Kaine $100,000
for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Virginia Tech fans chanted "Thank
you, ECU," in response.
ECU athletic director Terry Holland,
whose hiring of Skip Holtz was further validated despite a 17-7 loss,
was back in the Commonwealth where he was a coach and administrator for
much of his professional life.
"It was an emotional day, for sure,"
Holland said. "Standing out on that field was like something I've never
seen in my 47 years of college athletics. Unbelievable. The Pirate
Nation stood tall and the Hokies recognized 'em. I've never been in a
visiting stadium with 60,000 people saying 'Thank you.'
"Everybody who contributed to the fund
and all Pirates everywhere should be proud."
Virginia Tech was supposed to take a
step forward in dealing with the trauma of the spring. It was supposed
to be a feel good day and ultimately, it was, as Hokie fans did the wave
in the fourth quarter of a 17-7 win.
But the Hokies were expecting to take
care of the Pirates with relative ease and get ready to strap it up for
a real showdown at LSU this week. The betting line made Virginia Tech a
four-touchdown favorite after projected Pirate starting quarterback Rob
Kass was suspended earlier in the week for a DUI arrest.
ECU rewrote the Hokies' anticipated
script starting with Pierre Bell's interception on the hosts' first
Figuratively, the Hokies were placed in
survival mode again barricading doors and jumping out of classroom
windows fighting for their football lives.
ECU coach Skip Holtz said the prospect
of playing the powerful program that Frank Beamer has built in
Blacksburg had served as motivation for the Pirates throughout the
offseason. His players made the commitment to be ready in terms of
offseason conditioning and development under the supervision of strength
coach Mike Golden.
Although the breaks of the game went in
the Hokies' favor, the Pirates were far from out-athleted or overpowered
as often becomes the fate of Hokie foes.
ECU had a lot more fight apparently
than some of Michael Vick's dogs, especially on defense. The Pirates
allowed Tech just six yards rushing in the first half and didn't allow a
touchdown by the Hokies offense until the fourth quarter.
"We took a big step forward," Holland
said. "Virginia Tech wins games on toughness. They didn't win this game
on toughness. They got a couple of breaks and they were able to win. We
lost the game, but we didn't get beat."
The Pirates won the war in the trenches
with 142 rushing yards on 35 attempts compared to 33 yards on 31
attempts for the Hokies.
"Our front seven on defense have a
chance to be something special," Holtz said. "We've got to shore up some
things in the secondary."
Hokies quarterback Sean Glennon
completed 22 of 33 passes for one touchdown and 245 yards but he was
The Pirates were penalized 12 times for
"It's not enough to play hard," Holtz
said. "You've got to play smart. We made far too many mistakes today to
give ourselves a chance to win."
Holtz had said he would make his
quarterback decision after kickoff based on field position and went with
Brett Clay, who was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Kass. The
Pirates didn't move early against a defense with eight starters back
from the nation's top unit in 2006.
Holtz used three quarterbacks Clay,
junior Patrick Pinkney and Dwayne Harris, who was moved from receiver
"What we did with Clay was the offense
we had worked on in preseason," Holtz said. "We only used about 30
percent of what we had worked on in preseason."
ECU's points came in the second quarter
after Jerek Hewett recovered a Brandon Ore fumble forced by Quentin
Cotton at the ECU 48 with 2:37 left in the first quarter. With Pirate
legacy Pinkney, whose dad Reggie was a star defensive back at ECU in the
1970's, alternating with Harris on the series, ECU took a 7-3 lead with
a 9-play drive capped by Chris Johnson's 2-yard run with 14:23 left in
ECU was ahead 7-3 for 11 minutes and 16
seconds until Clay threw short on second and 10 from his own 2-yard
line. The pass was intercepted by Victor "Macho" Harris, who returned
the pick 17 yards for the go-ahead score.
"We were backed up," Holtz said. "We
tried to run a fullback belly on first down. We got about half a yard. I
said, 'Heck, let's take a chance.' We maximum protected it. We kept both
backs in. We kept both tight ends in. We ran Jamar Bryant on a fly
pattern and my thought was we'd get a one-on-one jump ball or if they
turn and roll coverage toward him and double team him, we throw it high
and outside and it's incomplete and it's third down."
Clay didn't return to the game. Pinkney
played most of the rest of the way, completing 14 of 25 passes for 115
yards. He also netted 48 yards rushing on nine carries.
"I was really pleased with Patrick
Pinkney, the way he played, the things that he did and what he gave to
us," Holtz said. "He did some good things with his mobility."
The Hokies added another score when
tight end Sam Wheeler got behind the ECU secondary for a 21-yard
touchdown pass from Glennon with 13:07 left to play.
"This will be a great video for us to
learn from and get better," Beamer said. "It's quite obvious we better
be better next week.
"I think some people would
underestimate East Carolina. They are a very good football team, a very
well coached football team. They came in here and took it right to us."