BLACKSBURG, Va. – E.J. Manuel was on the run all game trying to elude Virginia Tech's blitzing defense. And when No. 8 Florida State needed a clutch play, he was ready.
Manuel's winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds left moved the Seminoles within one win of a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
Florida State's stirring 28-22 victory on Thursday night at Lane Stadium gave the Seminoles (9-1, 6-1) their best record after 10 games since 2000, when they played for the national championship.
It also marked the first time in Manuel's career that he threw a touchdown pass on the final drive to win a game.
"They made us do some things because of their blitzes which were different," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said after Manuel was sacked five times and hit numerous other times. "We had to adjust on the run. E.J. took a beating back there, but he stood in there and made the plays. That's what great players do."
Manuel was already on his team before he got into the huddle.
"'Just believe,' I told them that on the sideline," he said. "Everybody stepped up."
Especially running back James Wilder Jr. The Seminoles, who finished with minus 15 yards rushing, turned to Wilder on fourth-and-1 from their 41 on the winning drive. He gained 7 yards, carrying defenders on his back.
Then Manuel took over.
After an incomplete pass, he hit Greg Dent for 13 yards before throwing a ball away under pressure. On second-and-10 from the Hokies 39, Manuel passed to Rashad Greene on a short slant and Greene took it all the way, diving for the pilon in the right corner of the end zone to give the Seminoles the lead.
Manuel finished 25 for 42 for 326 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The winning fourth-quarter drive was his first since he threw two final-quarter scoring passes to rally the Seminoles from a 14-0 deficit to an 18-14 victory against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29, 2011.
For the Hokies (4-6, 2-4), it was the hardest blow in a season that has been full of them.
"I think it's kind of obvious how it feels," cornerback Antone Exum said. "It hurts."
Virginia Tech plays at Boston College next Saturday, and then hosts Virginia in the regular-season finale in two weeks. It needs to win both to go to a bowl game for the 20th straight season.
"After a loss like that," quarterback Logan Thomas said of the Hokies' fifth loss in six games, and first at home since early last season, "the first thing you want is to get back on the field."
The Seminoles close their ACC season at Maryland on Nov. 17, then play No. 7 Florida the following week.
Hank Kurz Jr. can be reached at http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr