BLACKSBURG, Va. — Logan Thomas could finally breathe, and smile.
“Finally one went my way,” the Hokies’ senior quarterback said after Virginia Tech escaped a sloppy offensive performance and beat Marshall 29-21 in triple overtime on a rainy and cold Saturday at Lane Stadium.
Thomas ran 2 yards for a touchdown and then ran for the 2-point conversion in the third overtime, but it was his tying touchdown pass to Willie Byrn with 3:09 remaining in regulation that drew the smile. It went through the fingertips of Herd defender Darryl Roberts, who might have been distracted by the 100 yards of open field and game-clinching green space in front of him.
The play by Byrn erased virtually a game of sloppiness by the Hokies, and solid play by the Herd, who arrived with the nation’s No. 5 defense, No. 20 offense and a quarterback in Rakeem Cato who surely reminded Hokies fans of Tyrod Taylor.
Cato finished 19 for 41 for 228 yards and two touchdowns, ran 15 times for 46 yards and made huge play after huge play on third down, converting 9 of 20 opportunities. The last one had Hokies fans thinking the late rally would fall short.
After the Hokies tied it in regulation, Cato hit Devon Smith for 47 yards to the Hokies 34 on a third-and-13 from his own 19. Three plays later, Smith beat the defense again and Cato hit him in stride in the end zone, but safety Kyshoen Jarrett arrived as the ball did and made the catch, the interception preserving the tie and leaving Smith laid out in disbelief.
“I took a shot and he made a hell of a play,” Cato said.
In the first overtime, the Hokies started at their 25 and went backwards, eventually sending backup placekicker Ethan Keyserling out to try a 50-yard field goal. Keyserling was pressed into duty when Coach Frank Beamer suspended regular kicker Cody Journell earlier Saturday for a violation of team rules. Keyserling’s 50-yard try never had a chance. Justin Haig had a chance to then win it for the Thundering Herd, but his 39-yard attempt was blocked by Derrick Hopkins, forcing the second overtime.
Hopkins came up big in the second OT, too, scooping up a fumble on a sack by J.R. Collins and trying to return it for the game-winning points, but the 311-pounder was pulled down from behind after rumbling into Herd territory.
The Hokies played it safe, needing just a field goal, but Keyserling missed wide right from 32 yards.
In the third OT, Thomas put some plays together. He ran for 2 yards, hit Chris Mangus for 10, ran for 2, and hit Josh Stanford for 5. After a pass interference call, Thomas bolted through the line for the touchdown, and then the PAT.
Marshall (2-2) got to the Hokies 14, but after a 1-yard run, Cato threw three incompletions in a row.
That it even came down to the end seemed improbably until the Hokies’ tying drive.