Lee’s blocked punt leads ECU to win

Published 8:12 pm Sunday, August 31, 2008

By Staff
Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — Over the last decade, superb special teams play has been Virginia Tech’s forte.
On Saturday, East Carolina turned the tides.
Pirates’ senior wide receiver T. J. Lee broke through the center of the Hokies’ punt unit and came up with one of the biggest plays in ECU history, blocking Brent Bowden’s punt and returning it 27 yards for a touchdown with 1:52 left to cap the Pirates’ comeback victory over Virginia Tech - the No. 15 ranked team in the Coaches Poll and No. 17 ranked team in the AP Poll , 27-22.
“Wow, what a great win,” Coach Holtz said. “I’m so proud of our guys. They just kept fighting when there were so many times they could’ve quit. I can’t say enough about our team. What a big win this is.”
The punt block for a touchdown was the first by the Pirates since Nov. 16, 2002 when Antwane Yelverton returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against UAB.
“We ran a twist and a hole just opened,” Lee said. “After that I just jumped as high as I could and nailed it off his foot. Then the ball just bounced into my hands. As I was running towards the goal line I was thinking, “we did it. We’re going to get this win.”
It was the first punt that Bowden’s had blocked since arriving at Tech.
“That’s the first punt I’ve ever had blocked in my entire career,” Bowden said.
The special teams’ touchdown capped a late fourth quarter comeback by the Pirates.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech opened up a 22-13 lead on a three-yard touchdown plunge by Darren Evans.
After the two team’s exchanged punts, East Carolina still trailed by nine with 7:41 remaining.
That when the Pirates put together a nine-play 73-yard drive.
Senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney helped engineer a scoring drive by completed 2-of-3 passes for 31 yards and Dwayne Harris ripped off a 15-yard run to set ECU up inside the Hokies’ 25 yard line. After three straight carries by Jonathan Williams to put the ball at the Hokies’ 3, Pinkney capped the scoring drive with a three-yard touchdown scamper to cut Tech’s lead to 22-20.
On the Hokies’ next possession, the stingy East Carolina defense came up big. On 2 nd-and-9, Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon dumped off a screen pass to running back Kenny Lewis Jr., but C.J. Wilson and Emmanuel Davis were there to blow it up, stopping the Hokies’ running back for a 10-yard loss. Instead of risking a turnover, Beamer elected to play it safe and run the ball on third down and take his luck with the punt.
That’s when Lee stepped in and came up with the big block.
“The guy just broke through on our protection and did a nice job of blocking the ball,” said Beamer, who couldn’t remember his team ever losing a ball game on a special teams miscue late in the game. “You’ve got to tip your hat to East Carolina. They’ve got a good team and they’re going to win a lot of football games.”
It was a wild second half in Charlotte as East Carolina took the opening drive of the second half and marched 61 yards on nine plays, capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Pinkney to Jamar Bryant with 10:05 left in the third quarter to make it 14-13.
However, on the point-after-touchdown, the momentum swung back into Tech’s favor as Hokies’ sophomore John Graves blocked Ben Ryan’s PAT, which landed into the hands of Virgil who returned it 90 yards for two points, preserving the Hokies lead at 16-13. ECU had made 134 consecutive PAT’s prior to the miss.
Tech used that momentum to open a 22-13 lead, and it looked like they would send ECU back to Greenville with another hard-luck loss
But ECU kept battling and came back to defeat the defending ACC champions.
“We never quit,” said Pinkney, who set a new school record by completing 82.6 percent of his passes, breaking the mark set by James Pinkney against Duke in 2005. “Our guys never got down and we always believed we could win.”
In the first half, East Carolina made a couple costly miscues that helped Tech open up a two-touchdown lead.
Early in the second quarter, Pinkney tried a swing pass to Dwayne Harris that fell to the ground and was ruled a lateral. Virginia Tech’s Stephan Virgil was on the spot and scooped it up and darted into the end zone from 30 yards out to give the Hokies a 7-0 lead with 12:19 left in the first half.
On the ensuing kickoff, up man Dalvon Mack bobbled a bouncing kick and the ball wound up in the hands of the Hokies’ Jacob Sykes at East Carolina’s 25-yard line.
Five plays later, Virginia Tech capitalized on ECU’s miscue as Kenny Lewis Jr. darted in for a five-yard touchdown run, giving the Hokies a 14-0 lead.
The Pirates had a chance to get on the board with 3:34 left in the first half, but kicker Ben Ryan, attempting his first career field goal, pushed a 39-yard field goal wide right.
However, on the ensuing possession, East Carolina’s defense came up with another big play as Nick Johnson made his first career interception and returned it 19 yards to the Virginia Tech 1-yard line.
Three plays later, Jonathan Williams put the Pirates on the board with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, cutting the Tech lead to 14-7 with 1:16 left in the half.
“Nick Johnson made a terrific play,” Wilson said. “(The interception) helped swing the momentum in our favor just before the half. We were able to keep that momentum rolling in the second half and come out of here with a huge win”
Pinkney finished the game completing 19-of-23 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, while Brandon Simmons and Jonathan Williams combined for 102 yards on the ground.
The ECU defense limited the Hokies to just 243 yards of total offense. Glennon was 14-of-23 for 139 with no touchdowns and two interceptions for the Hokies, while Kenny Lewis Jr. had 62 yards to lead all rushers.
“In the end, we didn’t do enough to win the football game,” Coach Beamer said. “Coming in we knew East Carolina would be good and they proved it today.”
With the stunning victory in front of 72,619 fans - the largest crowd to ever see a regular season college football game at Bank of America Stadium - East Carolina becomes the first team in Conference USA history to record back-to-back wins over Top-25 teams,, following last season’s Hawaii Bowl victory over Boise State.
“This is by far the biggest win of my career. No doubt about it,” Wilson said. “To come in here and beat a team of Virginia Tech’s caliber is huge for our program.”
Next week, the Pirates (1-0) will welcome No. 8 West Virginia to Greenville.
“It’s one win. A really big win, but it’s still one win,” Johnson said. “We got to celebrate this tonight, then turn our attention to West Virginia. West Virginia isn’t going to lay down for us just because we beat Virginia Tech.”
Virginia Tech East Carolina
12 First Downs 19
35-104 Rushes-Yards 41-158
139 Passing Yards 211
14-23-2 Pass-Comp-Int 19-25-0
3-31.0 Punting 3-43.3
2-0 Fumbles-Lost 4-2
1-0 Penalties 6-60
Virginia Tech 0 14 2 6 — 22
East Carolina 0 7 6 14 — 27
Scoring Summary
Second Quarter
VT — Virgil 30 fumble return (Keys kick), 12:19.
VT — Lewis 6 run (Keys kick), 8:54.
ECU — Williams 1 run (Ryan kick), 1:16.
Third Quarter
ECU — J.Bryant 12 pass from Pinkney (kick blocked), 10:05.
VT — 2-point defensive conversion by Virgil, 10:05.
Fourth Quarter
VT — Evans 3 run (kick failed), 14:56.
ECU — Pinkney 3 run (Ryan kick), 3:36.
ECU — Lee 27 blocked punt return (Ryan kick), 1:52.
RUSHING — Virginia Tech, Lewis 11-62, Evans 12-37, Boone 3-4, Glennon 7-3, Jefferson 1-2, Oglesby 1-(minus 4). East Carolina, B.Simmons 17-54, Williams 10-48, Harris 3-32, Pinkney 11-24.
PASSING — Virginia Tech, Glennon 14-23-2-139. East Carolina, Pinkney 19-23-0-211, Kass 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING — Virginia Tech, Smith 3-32, Whitaker 3-14, Coale 2-15, Lewis 2-(minus 6), Roberts 1-62, Boone 1-9, Boyce 1-7, Evans 1-6. East Carolina, Drew 5-65, Harris 4-68, J.Bryant 4-34, Lee 2-26, B.Simmons 2-11, Gidrey 1-5, Williams 1-2.