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Jackson, VT ‘one-up’ Grier, WVU

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WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen (PHOTO: Emily Coyle) WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen (PHOTO: Emily Coyle)

By Ryan Decker

LANDOVER, MD – The last time Virginia Tech started a redshirt freshman in the season opener, that quarterback led a 47-0 rout over James Madison.

Eighteen years later, it was Josh Jackson’s turn to win the Hokies opening game Sunday night at FedEx Field, though having to do so against much stiffer competition than Vick endured – longtime rival, No. 22 West Virginia.

In the two programs’ first meeting since 2005, Jackson and new WVU quarterback Will Grier traded scoring drives, but it was Jackson that produced more in the 31-24 win for No. 21 Virginia Tech.

“I was proud of the way our guys fought and never gave up and kept playing, kept playing and kept playing,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We had a chance to win it up all the way until the end.”  

After a slow start to the game offensively by both teams, each side picked up steam in the second half.

WVU ended half of its third quarter possessions with scores, while Tech also put points on the board twice.

Grier connected with David Sills V on a scoring play for the second time in the contest, but a good kick return and a pass to a wide-open Cam Phillips regained the lead for Virginia Tech in a matter of seconds on the game clock.

The seven-point advantage was short lived due to another big play in the WVU passing game.

Grier this time found Gary Jennings down field, who broke past a couple of defenders and sprinted the rest of the way for a 60-yard touchdown catch that tied up the game at 24 points apiece early in the fourth quarter.

Jennings caught a career-high 13 passes for 189 yards, also a career-best.

That made up a majority of Grier’s 371 passing yards on 31 completions in his Mountaineer debut.

“Yeah I think there was a little bit of rust,” Grier said after making his first start in nearly two years. “We’ve got a lot of things to build off of. It’s the first time that a lot of us have played together.”  

Virginia Tech’s new quarterback also had a good day.

Jackson tallied 235 passing yards, and also picked up 106 on the ground, including a 46-yard run that set up another Hokies go-ahead score in the fourth a few plays later on a touchdown run by Trevon McMillian.

Following a missed field goal, West Virginia attempted to score on the final possession, but Grier couldn’t connect with an open receiver once the Mountaineers got inside the red zone.

“For someone who hasn’t played in two years, getting live snaps, I thought (Will) played really well,” Holgorsen said. “Everything that we thought he was he is.”

West Virginia’s offense struggled to gain much traction in the first half.

The Mountaineers punted on each of their three opening possessions. A lengthy drive that overlapped the end of the first, and beginning of the second, quarters ended in an interception on a gamble on fourth down.

Not progressing far down field gave the Hokies good field position, which they used early on to score.

A field goal on Virginia Tech’s second drive was made possible by a fourth down conversion by Josh Jackson.  Jackson then hooked up with Hokies top wide receiver, Cam Phillips, near the goal line on the very next play.

WVU’s defense held its ground, limiting the Hokies to a field goal.

Justin Crawford gave the Mountaineers the big play it needed in the second quarter, busting through the line for a 42-yard run to flip field position. WVU kept the ball mostly on the ground for the remainder of the 10-play drive, but used Grier’s arm in key spots.

An eight-yard completion to Ka’Raun White moved the chains on fourth down, and an 11-yard pitch and catch to David Sills gave the Mountaineers their first touchdown of the year, and the lead 7-3.

“We put in a lot of work over the summer, over the spring, getting great timing with each other,” Sills said of he and Grier. “Two touchdowns is great but I think there was a couple plays out there that I could’ve made that could’ve changed the outcome of the game.”

Virginia Tech regained the lead with under a minute to go in the first half, with Jackson scampering for a touchdown on a designed run. Hokies led 10-7 at the break.

After the Mountaineers tied the game on a field goal by Mike Molina that bounced off the goal post, the Hokies immediately regained the lead.

A quick trip down field ended in a 12-yard touchdown run for Deshawn McClease to push Virginia Tech in front 17-10.

Virginia Tech was aided much of the game by having better field position. The Hokies started six of their first 10 drives past the 30-yard line, and had an average starting field position of the 33-yard line

WVU, on the other hand, never started a drive beyond the 30, and owned an average starting field position of the 22-yard line.  

“They won the field position battle for sure,” WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “At the end of the day, yeah you’d like to have some favorable field position but it just didn’t bounce our way today.”

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