BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) – After coming precariously close to not being able to play Virginia Tech because of COVID-19 issues, No. 9 Miami came away with one of its gutsiest victories of the season.
D’Eriq King threw for 255 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score, rallying the Hurricanes to a 25-24 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Miami announced it had 13 players unavailable before the game, including three starters and several offensive linemen. There were 15 games called off this week across major college football because of COVID-19, the most of any week both by number and percentage of the schedule.
Miami-Virginia Tech was nearly No. 16.
“We were on the brink,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “The players’ attitude was the most telling. They wanted to play. We were right on the brink at some position groups as to whether we could function as a team.
“We brought the team, and the players came here to win the game. I told them I thought they won the game on Friday with their mentality and their attitude, with all the things we had to go through this week.”
The Hurricanes (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) rallied from an 11-point, third-quarter deficit to win their fourth consecutive game and stay very much alive for a spot in the ACC championship game.
“I just think part of the way you do it is to not panic,” Diaz said. “You don’t believe you have to play perfectly. You just got to find a way to get the job done.”
Miami scored the game’s final 12 points and held the Hokies (4-4, 4-3 ACC) scoreless on their final five possessions.
“It’s definitely a lot of positive energy and a lot of belief in the locker room right now,” Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips said. “Obviously, you don’t want to have tight games like that every week, but a win is a win, and I think every week we’re becoming stronger as a team.”
King guided the ’Canes on two long second-half scoring marches. A 13-play, 75-yard drive ended with Cam’Ron Harris’ 6-yard touchdown run, and cut the lead to 24-19 with 1:27 left in the third quarter. Miami failed to convert a 2-point conversion.
Miami put together a 10-play, 82-yard drive that ended with King throwing a dart to Mark Pope for a 36-yard touchdown to take a 25-24 lead with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter.
King, who rushed for a 10-yard touchdown in the second quarter, completed 24 of 38.
Hendon Hooker paced Virginia Tech, throwing for 201 yards and rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown.
“I hurt for them,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said of his players. “They came up short today, but it wasn’t for a lack of preparation. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. It wasn’t for a lack of guys caring about each other and guys being selfless. I’m hurting for them because they were so close to getting what they desperately wanted.”
Miami: The Hurricanes played well on defense, despite missing a couple of starters. Miami held the Hokies to a season-low 160 yards rushing and sacked Hooker six times, with Phillips (4.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks) providing a lot of the pressure.
“Shoutout to the defense,” King said. “They played great all day, and I think the offense made plays when we had to, and that’s always good.”
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have lost two straight and three of their past four as they struggle to sustain drives in the second half. Their final five drives ended with three punts, an interception, and on downs. The Hokies need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible for the 28th consecutive season.
Miami will remain in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll and may jump a couple of spots pending the outcomes of other games.
Miami: The ’Canes host Georgia Tech next Saturday.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies travel to Pittsburgh – if the Panthers are ready to play. Pitt’s game Saturday against Georgia Tech was postponed because both teams were having issues with COVID-19.