BLACKSBURG, Va. – Florida State got to see the Virginia Tech it expected on Thursday night at Lane Stadium.
When the eighth-ranked Seminoles were forced to validate their lofty ranking, and keep their Atlantic Coast Conference title plans intact, E.J. Manuel and the offense were more than equal to the task.
Manuel hit Rashad Greene with a short slant pass that Greene took 39 yards for a touchdown with 40 seconds to play, and the Seminoles survived a scare to beat the inspired Hokies 28-22.
"Nobody was flustered, nobody was afraid," Manuel said about the drive that came after a safety and a field goal had given Virginia Tech a 22-20 lead with just more than 2 minutes to play. "We all knew what we needed to do. We feel like we're built for things like that, and it showed tonight."
The Seminoles (9-1, 6-1 ACC) won their fourth straight and moved within a victory against Maryland on Nov. 17 of securing a spot in the ACC championship game Dec. 1. And they did it in dramatic fashion, with a 68-yard drive against a defense that had held it to nearly 300 yards below its 525-yard average.
Limited to minus-15 rushing yards for the game, Florida State got a 7-yard run from James Wilder Jr. on a fourth-and-1 play from its 41 on the final drive. Manuel, a Virginia Beach native, then hit Greg Dent for 13 yards two plays later. After he threw a pass away under pressure, Manuel hit Greene on a short slant against a zone defense that was out of position, and Greene took it all the way.
"It was basic, simple," Manuel said. "Get him the ball, and Rashad did the rest."
Manuel was sacked five times, but finished 25 for 42 for 326 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Greene caught six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Dent caught the other scoring pass.
Manuel and Greene also teamed up late in the first half, after the Hokies had held them to no yards for the first 12 minutes of the second quarter. Manuel led a precise five-play, 71-yard drive, and hit Greene with consecutive passes of 22 and 25 yards, the latter giving them a 13-10 lead at the half.
Virginia Tech (4-6, 2-4) lost for the fifth time in six games and will have to win at Boston College and then at home against state rival Virginia to qualify for a bowl game for the 20th straight year.
"We've experienced some things this year that guys haven't experienced around here in a long time," coach Frank Beamer said. The Hokies are in the midst of their worst season in two decades.
Virginia Tech had gone ahead 22-20 on Cody Journell's 21-yard field goal with 2:19 remaining. The kick capped a 52-yard drive that stalled when Logan Thomas ran for 2 yards on third-and-3 from the 6.
"We actually had the perfect play drawn up, but we missed a block," Thomas said. "I probably would have scored."
The Hokies' go-ahead drive came after a stellar defensive series that ended in a safety.
After the Seminoles took over at their 20, Manuel threw incomplete on first down and James Gayle sacked him for a 10-yard loss on second down. A delay of game penalty moved the ball back to the 5 and, when the Seminoles tried running Devonta Freeman to the left, Jack Tyler caught him from behind in the end zone. Freeman tried to throw it, an illegal forward pass, and the safety pulled the Hokies to 20-19.
It also gave them the ball, but when they only managed a field goal, the Seminoles made them pay.
"Thursday night? Virginia Tech? This is what I watched every year and now I've experienced it, and it's crazy," Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner said.
The Seminoles opened a 20-10 lead with a 49-yard touchdown drive after recovering a fumble by Hokies wide receiver Marcus Davis. Manuel completed three passes on the six-play drive, including a 10-yard bullet to Dent in the back of the end zone with 6:53 left in the third quarter.
Virginia Tech replied quickly, driving 80 yards in eight plays. Thomas hit Corey Fuller for 44 and 14 yards on the drive, and ran it in himself from the 5, bulling over several defenders.
The game was delayed for about 10 minutes in the third quarter when Virginia Tech safety Michael Cole was hurt and lay face-down and motionless on the field. As the crowd stood in silence, Cole was taken away by ambulance. The school said he had a neck sprain, but had feeling and movement in his extremities.
The Seminoles came in with the nation's No. 3 scoring offense, averaging nearly 45 points, but the Hokies neutralized it for the first 27 minutes, allowing just a pair of field goals by Dustin Hopkins. The kicker finished the night with nine points, leaving him two shy of breaking the NCAA record for points by a kicker. Boise State's Kyle Brotzman had 439 from 2007-10.
The Seminoles twice started drives near midfield early, and got nothing out of them. The first ended with Donovan Riley's interception of Manuel's pass at the 1, and the second with a three-and-out punt.
But after Thomas drove Virginia Tech 68 yards for the game's first touchdown, giving the Hokies a 10-6 lead, Manuel and the Seminoles — held to zero yards at that point in the second quarter — clicked.
Manuel hit Kevin Benjamin for 12 and 17 yards, and then Greene beat Kyle Fuller twice.
On the Hokies' drive, Thomas connected with Fuller's older brother, Corey, on three third-down plays. The first went for 33 yards on third-and-9, the second for 15 yards on third-and-4 and the last for 4 yards and the touchdown on a perfectly thrown third-and-2 fade to the right corner of the end zone.
Florida State took a 6-3 lead after Tyler Hunter intercepted Thomas' pass at the Hokies 34. Virginia Tech had a chance to tie when it recovered a punt that was fumbled by Hunter at the Seminoles 30 on the next possession, but three plays netted only 4 yards and Journell's 43-yard field goal was wide left.
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