BLACKSBURG — Quincy Patterson to the rescue.
When Virginia Tech’s feel-good story at quarterback, Hendon Hooker, was lost for the game in the final minutes of the first half Saturday against North Carolina, the game had to go on.
… And on.
… And on.
Patterson, the third Hokies’ quarterback to see action on Saturday was the one to guide his team, as well as a rambunctious Lane Stadium crowd, through most of the second half — and all six overtimes of an exhilarating 43-41 win over the Tar Heels.
For those of you out there not familiar with the latest evolution of college football’s overtime rule, if neither team can win in the first four extra periods, the winner will be determined on 2-point conversion attempts.
UNC failed twice to reach the end zone from the 3-yard line. Patterson won the game in OT No. 6 with a hard-fought run over the left side of the offensive line.
“I’m proud of how they responded,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “There were times when we weren’t moving the ball very much offensively, and there were times when we weren’t exactly stoning them defensively, but we kept battling through, taking adjustments, taking tweaks, continuing to give great effort and try to battle through the adversity.”
Hooker, who had won the hearts of fans winning his first two career starts the past two weeks, had the offense humming along once again in the first half against UNC, erasing a 10-point deficit with 244 yards of total offense.
But then he suffered an ugly left leg injury in the final minute of the second quarter. Replays showed his leg getting stuck in the turf and bending in the wrong direction.
Former starting quarterback Ryan Willis made a cameo appearance on Saturday — he threw an 11-yard touchdown to Damon Hazelton and engineered a three-and-out drive to start the second half. Tech then turned the keys over to Patterson.
By the time Patterson triumphantly arose from the end zone after his winning dive, he was on the winning side of the longest game in the history of both programs — as well as in ACC history.
“It was just like life or death,” Virginia Tech receiver Tré Turner said.
Tech safety Khalil Ladler stopped both of North Carolina’s OT conversion attempts in the backfield. He stopped Michael Carter on UNC’s first try that would have won the Tar Heels the game. The safety followed that up by sacking quarterback Sam Howell in the sixth overtime, which UNC had the first possession.
North Carolina also could have won with a 35-yard field goal in the third overtime, but Noah Ruggles missed wide right. Tech’s Brian Johnson missed a 42-yarder that would have won the game in the fourth overtime.
After exchanging field goals in the first overtime, North Carolina QB Howell hit Beau Corrales for an 8-yard touchdown to get the advantage.
Virginia Tech answered with Patterson throwing a 18-yard touchdown to Hazelton on a fourth-and-3. North Carolina was called for holding on the play, but Hazelton didn’t have any issues bringing down the perfectly-thrown pass with a one-handed grab.
“You know in the past it was really just running the ball, I know that role had switched today,” Patterson said. “My mentality was kind of like be ready to throw the ball. Running the ball that comes naturally, just be to throw the ball and execute and make plays that need to be made.”
It wasn’t pretty at times, with Tech taking a conservative approach with Patterson. The approach paid off when Patterson broke a 53-yard touchdown run that tied the game up 31-31 with 4:31 to go.
The redshirt freshman set up his first career touchdown with a 22-yard pass to Tayvion Robinson.
Patterson finished the game going 3 of 6 for 54 yards and the overtime TD pass to Hazelton. He had 21 carries for 128 yards and a score.
“We had a third-team quarterback in the game, it’s going to be scaled down,” Virginia Tech coach Fuente said.
“....But in the same respect, at no point did I feel like we were just going to put him back there and we were going to run it every single snap and we were going to win the game. They’re too big up front. We were going to have to make a couple plays in the passing game.”
Tech’s defense helped get the game into overtime by forcing a pair of three-and-outs in the final minutes, sacking quarterback Sam Howell on both drives (Divine Deablo and Norell Pollard each got to the quarterback). Four of the team’s five sacks came after halftime.
“[The coaches] said we were going to have to fight it out,” Pollard said.
“I love games like that, it brings out who wants it more, who is actually going to go get it. I felt like that’s what we had.”
North Carolina’s offense had a hard time rekindling the success it had in the first quarter outside of an 8-play, 71-yard scoring drive right out of halftime and a trick play late in the game.
Howell gave the Tar Heels a 31-24 lead in the fourth when he hit Antoine Green for a 63-yard touchdown off a flea flicker that started with a reverse.
But Patterson led the way to help the Hokies respond, and eventually force overtime.
At the start of the game, Virginia Tech fans had flashbacks to recent lopsided home losses when North Carolina needed less than a minute to go 75 yards for a score. Howell hit Dazz Newsome for a 47-yard touchdown with 14:12 left in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
Newsome out ran both Tech’s safeties (Chamarri Conner and Divine Deablo) up the field. North Carolina running back Michael Carter also had a long 28-yard run on the drive right through the heart of Tech’s defensive front. Newsome added a 10-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
After Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker fumbled a snap at his own 34-yard line, North Carolina kicker Noah Ruggles added a 26-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
The Tar Heels offense pretty much did anything they wanted in the first quarter putting up 152 yards (99 passing) with eight first downs.
Virginia Tech’s offense shrugged off the turnover and managed to go toe-to-toe with its ACC rival.
Wide receiver Tre Turner, who missed the last two games, got going late on Tech’s final possession of the quarter. He had three catches for 74 yards including a career-long 55-yard touchdown catch. He was wide open down Tech’s sideline for the score with two seconds on the clock to make it 10-7. The North Carolina native finished the game with five catches for a career-high 106 yards.
Tech added a pair of touchdowns in the final four minutes of the half to take a 21-17 lead into the break.
The Hokies running back Deshawn McClease capped off an 8-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 3:29 left in the half. It was the third straight game with a touchdown for McClease (a first in his career). The drive featured nice 20-yard leaping grab by James Mitchell, and first down runs by Hooker and McClease.
Tech kept the pressure up by forcing a quick three-and-out then going right back down the field. McClease broke a 24-yard run and Keene put the team back in the red zone with an 18-yard catch.
The Hokies got inside the 15-yard line where the drive almost stalled when Hooker went down with his injury. He came out of the game for third down, but former starter Ryan Willis came into the game and threw an 11-yard touchdown to Damon Hazelton. Hazelton made an impressive over the shoulder catch while getting shoved out of the sidelines.
”We just needed to settle down a little bit,” Fuente said. “I did sense that I thought we were a little nervous as the game started. I tried to relax guys a little bit, but it’s also a little bit of a good sign that I felt like they were a little nervous. They care a lot, so that’s a good thing.”