MORGANTOWN — Virginia Tech’s comeback bid fell short at the 3-yard line on Saturday.
The Hokies were trying to overcome a 20-point second-half deficit against West Virginia on Saturday, but couldn’t score a touchdown inside the 5-yard line on four straight attempts.
West Virginia won 27-21 to reclaim the Black Diamond Trophy that had been in Tech’s possession since 2004. There were 60,000-plus fans clad in gold at Milan Puskar Stadium to start the game, but many of them had already left when the Hokies’ comeback bid kicked into high gear.
“We’re definitely a bunch of fighters,” Virginia Tech offensive lineman Brock Hoffman said. “We’ll fight until the clock says 0:00.”
The game tightened up in the fourth quarter with Tech’s defense limiting West Virginia to three first downs in the half and forcing a pair of turnovers.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister dumped the ball off to running back Jalen Holston, who turned the play into a 29-yard touchdown to cut West Virginia’s lead to 27-21 with 3:10 to go.
Defensive back Jermaine Waller came up with an interception at the Mountaineers’ 25-yard line on the ensuing drive.
“I thought that was it,” Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield said.
Holston gave the offense a fresh set of downs two plays later with an 8-yard gain down to West Virginia’s 3-yard line. The clock wasn’t an issue, but nothing the Hokies dialed up worked.
West Virginia stopped Holston at the line of scrimmage on first and second down. The Mountaineers’ secondary had the field well covered when Burmeister tried to find an open receiver on third down and again on fourth down. Burmeister threw the ball to Tre Turner at the goal line both times.
It wasn’t the first time Tech failed to score points inside the 10-yard line either.
After West Virginia connected on a 28-yard field to take a 24-7 lead with less than two minutes to go in the half, running back Raheem Blackshear gave the Hokies some life with a career-high 78-yard kick return down to WVU’s 22-yard line.
Burmeister threw a pair of incompletions to the end zone from inside the 10-yard line to a wide-open Tayvion Robinson. The first throw was low — a defender grazed the ball at the line of scrimmage — and the officials ruled it an incompletion, a call upheld on review.
Tech was called for a false start at the 2-yard line during the sequence that ended with kicker John Parker Romo missing a 24-yard field-goal attempt.
In the fourth quarter, Tech turned the ball over on downs after having first and goal from the 8-yard line. The Hokies ran nine offensive plays from inside the 10-yard line overall and only one went for positive yardage.
Burmeister was 0 for 4 from the 10 or closer, and three of those plays were stopped for negative yardage.
“We were pretty shoddy,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said of his team’s red zone woes. “Inconsistent to say the least.”
Fuente said one of the main issues was the offense’s overall struggles in the ground game. The Hokies finished with 125 rushing yards (2.6 yards per carry).
West Virginia got off to a hot start when running back Leddie Brown went untouched up the middle of the field for an 80-yard touchdown on the offense’s second snap of the game. Brown came into the game averaging 3.3 yards per carry with 104 yards on the season.
The 18-second scoring drive left the Hokies reeling.
“We misfit the big run,” Fuente said. “We had enough people in the box with the motion. We just missed the fit. They split us and went to the house. That was a huge play, obviously.”
Tech responded with a three-and-out — the offense lost yardage on the drive — and West Virginia went right back to the end zone with quarterback Jarret Doege throwing a 29-yard touchdown to Bryce Ford-Wheaten on the third play of the drive.
West Virginia’s offense averaged 27 yards per play on its first two possessions.
After the Mountaineers went ahead 27-7, Tech started to chip away at their lead.
Burmeister led his team down the field with a 39-yard completion down the sidelines to tight end Drake DeIuliis. He also ran for a first down with the Hokies backed up on a third-and-24 play across midfield. The conversion helped Tech overcome a pair of sacks, a fumbled snap and a false start penalty.
Blackshear cut West Virginia’s lead to 27-14 on a 20-yard touchdown run around the right side of the line at the end of the third.
“Our guys came back in the second half and really just kept fighting and scratching and clawing,” Fuente said. “We had a chance to win the game there.”