- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

ATLANTA — The Virginia Tech team that showed up for a 31-24 loss to Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last night was one that hadn’t been seen in more than two months.

The same stuttering, turnover-filled offense and mistake-prone defense that cost the Hokies their only two regular season losses and a shot at an ACC title reappeared at Georgia Dome as Virginia Tech surrendered an 18-point lead. Virginia Tech was looking for its seventh straight win since falling to Georgia Tech on Sept. 30 and Boston College on Oct. 12.

The Bulldogs rallied with 21 points in just 6 minutes of the second half after managing just 47 of their 200 yards of offense before the break. The Hokies’ defense lost senior end Noland Burchette to a broken arm in the first half, then third-team All-American sophomore cornerback Brandon Flowers to a leg injury in the second.

Brandon Coutu gave the Bulldogs a 24-21 lead on a 28-yard kick with 11 minutes to play — his third field goal of the night — and fullback Brannan Southerland bulled in a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal with 7:30 remaining.

Earlier, senior tight end Martrez Milner caught a 6-yard Matthew Stafford touchdown pass with less than two minutes in the third quarter to bring Georgia within 21-13. Those two connected again for a two-point conversion to tie the game 21-21 following a Kregg Lumpkin touchdown run. That catch tied the game with 12:39 to play.

Then, Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Sean Glennon lost a fumble on a blind-side sack as part of a fourth quarter in which he threw three interceptions as first the lead and then all hope for a comeback slipped away from the Hokies.

With 6:15 remaining, Glennon’s final interception ended up in the hands of Georgia safety Kelin Johnson.

The Hokies had looked crisp in the second quarter despite losing starting left tackle Brandon Frye. They were able to come back from a scoreless first period with a flurry set up by the defense and special teams to take a 21-3 halftime lead.

On first-and-10 from his own 16-yard line with just more than 1 minutes to play in the first, Stafford slung a pass through the outstretched fingertips of Hokies left end Chris Ellis and into the arms of diving Virginia Tech linebacker Brenden Hill. That was Stafford’s only turnover of the night as he finished 9-for-21 for 129 yards.

Trailing 3-0, traditionally conservative coach Frank Beamer elected to take another shot at the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 only seconds into the second quarter. Branden Ore, who had managed 11 yards on his seven carries to that point, shoved his way over the goal line for the touchdown.

A 54-yard punt return by junior receiver Eddie Royal put the offense into Georgia territory after the Virginia Tech defense held the Bulldogs to a single set of downs. Ore, who finished with just 42 rushing yards on 20 carries, scored again on a 1-yard run, a touchdown awarded after a review.

In the second quarter Royal became the first non-quarterback to complete a touchdown pass for Virginia Tech this season. From his own 47-yard line, the 5-foot-10 flanker took a lateral from Glennon and completed his first pass this year on three attempts — a 53-yarder to freshman tight end Sam Wheeler.

Virginia Tech did not score again until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, when senior kicker Brandon Pace was successful on his only attempt of the night with 3:41 to play. The Hokies failed to recover the ensuing onside kick and did not regain possession until 1 minutes remained from their own 20-yard line with no timeouts.

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