T.J. Lee blocked a punt and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown with 1:52 left to help East Carolina stun No. 17 Virginia Tech 27-22 on Saturday.
The Hokies, long known for stout defense and special teams, seemed to have control of the game thanks to Stephan Virgil's 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown and his 2-point conversion off a blocked extra point.
But it was the Pirates (1-0), who came up with the big plays on defense and special teams in the end, scoring the game's final 15 points.
East Carolina continued its turnaround days after coach Skip Holtz was given a new six-year contract after rescuing the program from rough times.
After Patrick Pinkney's 3-yard touchdown run with 3:36 left cut the deficit to 22-20, the Pirates stopped the Hokies' struggling offense. Lee burst through the line of scrimmage unblocked. He smothered Brent Bowden's punt, scooped up the ball on one bounce and ran into the end zone.
Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon then finished a frustrating day with an incomplete pass on fourth down deep in his own territory, setting off a wild celebration among the Pirates' fans at the neutral-site contest.
Pinkney completed 19 of 23 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, Jonathan Williams rushed for 48 yards and a score and East Carolina built off its Hawaii Bowl upset of Boise State with a win over the favorites in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
The Pirates, held Virginia Tech last year before eventually succumbing, 17-7 in Blacksburg.
And with Virginia Tech limited to 243 yards of offense, coach Frank Beamer's decision to start Glennon will continue to be second-guessed.
Minus Glennon's 62-yard pass true freshman Dyrell Roberts that set up Darren Evans' 3-yard TD early in the fourth quarter for a 22-13 lead, the fifth-year senior struggled, completing 14 of 23 passes for 139 yards and two interceptions. He wasn't helped when right tackle Blake DeChristopher left with a right thigh injury on the first offensive series
Glennon got the nod ahead of speedy sophomore Tyrod Taylor, who is scheduled to be redshirted. Despite being the MVP of the ACC championship game last season, Glennon has been the target of fans since he struggled in Virginia Tech's bowl loss after the 2006 season and was benched in a 48-7 loss to LSU last year.
Hurried much of the day, Glennon's second interception was returned by Nick Johnson 19 yards to the 1. Williams scored from a yard out three plays later to cut Virginia Tech's lead to 14-7 in the second quarter.
Glennon's first pass Saturday was tipped and intercepted inside the ECU 20. The Hokies again came up empty in the red zone when Evans was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-inches from the 5.
The defense and special teams then helped stake ECU to a 14-0 lead, despite the absence of cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris (foot).
Pinkney's swing pass to Dwayne Harris was thrown behind him and backward. Virgil scooped it up and ran 30 yards for a score, the Hokies' nation-best 67th non-offensive touchdown since the start of the 1999 season.
East Carolina's Dalvon Mack then twice failed to pick up the ensuing, low kickoff and Jacob Sykes recovered at the 25. Kenny Lewis Jr.'s 6-yard run six plays later put Virginia Tech in command with 8:54 left in the second quarter.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.