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“That was definitely a momentum shift,” cornerback Cris Hill (Highland Springs) said. “They’re a dangerous offense, and they caught us.”

The play also underscored how important an injury to cornerback Jayron Hosley in the first half was. Hosley missed the second half, and backup Detrick Bonner, a freshman, was unable to run with Clemson’s speedy receivers.

“Jayron could have made a difference in the game,” Hill said. “He’s one of those guys that you can just feel his presence on the field.”

Even senior Danny Coale, who could do no wrong this year for the Hokies, ran out of magic. His first-half duties included punts of 61 and 60 yards, among the best in ACC title game history. In the second half, he struggled to get the ball to midfield on his first two boots.

Clemson’s third drive of the second half was its third consecutive touchdown, a 29-yard run by Andre Ellington.

His dominance mirrored the scene in Blacksburg on Oct. 1, when the Tigers gave the Hokies their only other loss of the season.

The weeks after that game marked a turning point for Thomas, a sophomore who emerged as one of the ACC’s top signal callers.

Saturday night, Clemson took him back down a notch. The Tigers mostly stuck with air-tight coverage, but mixed in the occasional blitz.

“They did it in the first game, so we were ready for it,” Thomas said of the physical play. “I think we did a lot better up front this time, honestly.”

At times, the Hokies showed why they entered as the favorites. By the end, though, they had come unraveled.

Boykin made a catch towards the end of the third quarter that might have put the Hokies back in the game. But frustrated with the pass interference that was committed against him, he spiked the ball and drew a personal foul.

One step forward, two steps back.

It was a dance that marched Virginia Tech right out of the Orange Bowl.

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