CHARLOTTESVILLE Grant Noel picked the biggest stage of Virginia Tech’s season to once again thumb his nose at his critics.
Noel threw three first-half touchdown passes as No. 18 Virginia Tech turned four turnovers into 24 points yesterday to beat Virginia for the third consecutive year, 31-17 in a game that wasn’t that close. It attracted 61,625, a record for a college football game in the state.
Noel, maligned for his inability to throw deep, hit Andre Davis for 26- and 58-yard touchdowns and found Jarrett Ferguson for a 17-yarder.
“It’s unbelievable what you can do when you go out and execute and everyone puts everything into it on every play. We did that,” Noel said.
It started with the first play, when David Pugh rushed Virginia quarterback Bryson Spinner, throwing him for a 10-yard loss that got the home team tense, the visitors hungry and set the tone for the afternoon.
“We felt like if we brought the heat on him and forced him to make decisions a little quicker than he wanted to, that we would have the upper hand,” said Willie Pile, who had two interceptions for the Hokies (8-2).
Virginia (4-7) lost three fumbles and an interception in the first half, and each time the Hokies cashed in. They had touchdown drives of 18 and 15 yards, a 12-yard drive to a field goal and two sustained marches.
Each of Pile’s interceptions also ended Cavaliers drives. The first came at the Hokies’ 8 in the first half, the second at the 1.
“They were driving in and I think that was a momentum changer. It kind of sucked the wind out of them and we were able to jump on it,” Pile said.
Virginia got going in the second half, scoring on a 2-yard run by Matt Schaub, David Greene’s 35-yard field goal and Schaub’s 1-yard pass to Tyree Foreman with 10:53 left, but then the Hokies defense stiffened.
“We came out really thinking we could get these guys. We thought we could move the ball on them,” Foreman said. “And without all those fumbles and missed pickups and missed throws … we might have been in it.”
The Hokies also helped themselves, scoring on drives of 63 and 92 yards in the first half. Both marches ended with Noel to Davis passes.
“We knew that teams could pass on them, so we took advantage of that,” said Davis, who finished with three catches for 126 yards and two TDs. His 58-yarder was the longest pass play of the season for the Hokies and gave him seven touchdown catches and boosted Noel’s TD total to 15.
Noel was 12-for-22 for 190 yards with one interception, and Kevin Jones took over in the second half when the Hokies went to ground control. The freshman finished with 37 carries for 181 yards and a 1-yard TD.
The 83rd meeting between the schools was all Hokies at the start, giving them a 42-36-5 edge all-time and the first three-game winning streak in the rivalry since the Cavalier did it between 1987 and 1989.
Spinner, who fumbled on a strip by Ben Taylor and threw an interception with defensive end Nathaniel Adibi hanging onto his ankle, left in the second quarter and spent the rest of the half on the bench. He did not return, and coach Al Groh said he had suffered a concussion.
The Cavaliers’ other turnovers came when Tavon Mason fumbled on a kickoff return, giving the Hokies the ball at the Virginia 22, and when Alvin Pearman dropped a punt, giving the Hokies to ball at the 15.
“We were ruined by all the things that have given us problems in the past turnovers and deep balls,” Groh said afterward.
Schaub played well in relief, completing 19 of 28 for 243 yards and the TD but was sacked three times. Spinner also went down three times, the losses leaving Virginia with a net of eight yards on 28 rushing attempts. In all, the Hokies outgained the Cavaliers 431-269.