BLACKSBURG - The charter bus chugged down Airport Road on Saturday morning, with fans walking next to it on both sides and empty Lane Stadium looming across a parking lot. Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas looked out the bus windows and thought this had to be the best view in the world.
"It's just a beautiful scene, seeing all those people and knowing they're there for you," he said later.
And the 66,000-plus people who crammed into Lane a couple hours later saw an idyllic start to a new era of Tech football. On a muggy, rain-free day when the school celebrated the beginning of coach Frank Beamer's 25th season and welcomed Thomas and junior tailback David Wilson to starting roles, the Hokies dominated from the get-go and beat Appalachian State 66-13.
The last time these fans saw this team, it embarrassed itself in the Orange Bowl, losing 40-12 to Stanford. Eight months later to the day, the 13th-ranked Hokies quickly made sure there would be no repeat of last year's stunning loss to James Madison, which conjured memories of Appalachian State's 2007 win at Michigan.
Coach C.P. Miles and the 1905 Hokies can still rest easy, since Saturday wasn't as lopsided as their 86-0 season opener against Roanoke College. But the 66 points the Hokies hung on the Mountaineers – a well-regarded Football Championship Subdivision team, like James Madison – were their second-most since 1920.
Thomas' day was done with 5:22 left in the third quarter, when Tech led 52-0. He completed 9 of 19 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson already had his last carry by then. He finished with 16 rushes for 162 and three touchdowns, including a 20-yarder on Tech's first play after Appalachian State quarterback DeAndre Presley fumbled away a handoff on his second play.
"That was a prefect way to start," Beamer said.
Wilson learned earlier in the week that he'd get the opening carry, when running backs coach Shane Beamer reviewed with him the script for the first series.
"I told him I didn't have to hear the second play because I was going to take it to the crib," Wilson said.
After scoring, Wilson bounced to the sideline and smiled at Shane. "You called it," Shane said. Then they both laughed. Afterward, Wilson said he wants to break Tech's single-season rushing record this fall and score 20 touchdowns without fumbling.
"Hopefully, this is just the beginning," he said.
He and Thomas were the two top recruits in Tech's Class of 2009, and ever since Thomas picked the Hokies, everybody was eager to witness his rare blend of athleticism and size. And there he was, on the first quarter's final play, running up the middle, lowering his shoulder and flattening free safety Patrick Blalock for a 12-yard gain. Blalock is a mere 6 feet and 200 pounds – six inches shorter and 54 pounds lighter than Thomas.
Thomas said he "felt like I got into a groove after my first hit." Not that he was overly nervous. He sat in the locker room before the game, listening to Jay-Z on his headphones. None of his teammates talked to him, but he said he wouldn't have minded if they did.
When he walked out of the locker room and toward Lane's tunnel, he looked into the gaping stadium and saw a sea of orange and maroon. "This is what I've been waiting on the past two years," he thought.
He exploited his team's obvious talent advantage in the first half and helped Tech outgain Appalachian State 291-61 and lead 38-0. Tech finished with 518 yards, and Thomas earned rave reviews from his position coach and play caller, Mike O'Cain.
"I don't remember [a throw] where you'd say, 'Good gosh, what was that?'" O'Cain said.
This was Tech's first opening game win since 2007, and if the Hokies continue to play like they did Saturday, they could be on their way to a 4-0 start, with a less-than-daunting non-conference schedule. Hiccups are inevitable, though there were few in Blacksburg on Saturday.
"I've got a long way to develop to be the quarterback I want to be," Thomas said. "But today was a great first step."
Read Darryl Slater's Virginia Tech blog at vteffect.com