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BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech couldn't overcome its slow start and East Carolina's last-minute rally.
East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden threw three touchdown passes and scored a rushing touchdown with 16 seconds left to lead the Pirates to the 28-21 upset on Saturday.
"I think you give East Carolina credit," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "I knew coming in that they were a good football team. They played well. That quarterback can throw the football, and they've got some receivers who can go get it. They made some great plays, and I give them credit."
The Hokies played well in never trailing the Buckeyes a week ago, but fell behind 21-0 to the Pirates.
Carden, the senior from Houston, Texas, completed 23 of 47 passes for 427 yards in carrying the Pirates to their first victory over a ranked team since 2009 when they beat then-No. 18 Houston 38-32 in Greenville, North Carolina.
East Carolina (2-1) snapped a five-game losing streak to ranked opponents.
Carden threw touchdown passes on the Pirates' first two possessions and three of their first four. His 4-yard pass to Bryce Williams gave the Pirates a 7-0 lead with 12:17 left in the first quarter, and his 15-yard scoring pass to Trevon Brown made it 14-0 less than five minutes into the game.
The Pirates took a 21-0 lead toward the end of the first quarter. Carden threw his third touchdown pass of the quarter, this one to receiver Isaiah Jones from 7 yards with 2:44 remaining in the quarter to give ECU a 21-point edge.
Carden completed 11 of 19 for 174 yards in the first quarter. Virginia Tech's defense wasn't the only unit struggling. The Hokies didn't get their first first down until 1:57 was left in the first quarter.
Beamer refused to say the Hokies suffering a letdown from their win over Ohio State last weekend.
"I'm not going to make that excuse," he said. "I thought we were ready to play. We understood how exactly East Carolina was going to play. It wasn't a secret. They hit a couple of big plays against our defense, and offensively, we were sluggish getting started and then the defense is right back on the field.
"It just wasn't a good start, but I thought we were ready to play."
The Hokies cut the lead to 21-7 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Brewer to receiver Isaiah Ford with 47 seconds left in the first half. Brewer found Ford again in the fourth quarter, hitting him for a 15-yard scoring play to make it 21-14 with 6:31 remaining.
Virginia Tech tied the game at 21 on an 18-yard pass from Brewer to receiver Cam Phillips with 1:20 left in the game.
But the Pirates, after doing little in the second half, needed just three plays to go 65 yards. Virginia Tech's Joey Slye kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving the Pirates the ball at their 35.
Then, Carden threw passes of 31 and 28 yards to Cam Worthy sandwiched around an illegal substitution penalty on the Hokies. He scored on a 1-yard run to lift the Pirates to the win.
"It just goes back to believing and the commitment to the team," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "If it goes bad and you believe in that, you don't waiver when it goes bad. You don't think it's all about you when it goes well.
"There are three sides to this game, and you want all three sides working together at one. That's where the commitment to our team and putting our team first showed. We stayed focused and never got down on ourselves."
Worthy finished with six catches for 224 yards for the Pirates.
Brewer completed 30 of 56 passes for 298 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions for the Hokies. But it wasn't enough to lead the Hokies to what would have been their biggest comeback win under Beamer.
"We knew they were going to be tough," Brewer said. "Defensively, we knew they were going to be ready to play. They did some things up front and stopped our run game early. It just took us a while to settle down and get into a rhythm.
"There's really no excuse. They just outplayed us in the first half."