LANDOVER, Md. -- Neither the Virginia Tech offense nor the West Virginia offense did much of anything in the first half Sunday night. But once their new starting quarterbacks got into a rhythm, it was hard to take your eyes off them.
And this game.
Will Grier and Josh Jackson played a game of one-upmanship until the very end, throwing and running their way to big plays. Ultimately, Jackson had the upper hand and Virginia Tech won 31-24 in a renewed rivalry game turned instant classic.
Jackson finished with 235 yards passing and 101 yards rushing and two total touchdowns; Grier finished with 371 yards passing and three touchdowns.
The game was in doubt until the very end. Grier drove West Virginia to the Virginia Tech 15-yard line with nine seconds left, thanks to a nifty fourth-down run that featured a hurdle over a defender. His pass to David Sills in the end zone was dropped; on the final play of the game, West Virginia was called for multiple penalties and it was over.
Though both teams started slowly, Grier and Jackson looked far more comfortable after halftime and started making one play after another.
The game turned into a back-and-forth battle midway through the third quarter. After Virginia Tech kicker Joey Slye missed a 38-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Hokies a 20-10 lead, Grier led the Mountaineers down the field for a touchdown.
Virginia Tech got a huge kickoff return, and Jackson threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Cam Phillips on the next play to give Virginia Tech the lead again. Somehow, the best player on the Virginia Tech offense was left all alone in the West Virginia secondary, and he capitalized. Along with Jackson, Phillips was remarkable in his own right with a career-high 138 yards receiving.
The game may have turned on the following possession. After driving down to the Virginia Tech 23, thanks in large part to a 43-yard throw from Grier to Gary Jennings, coach Dana Holgorsen was flagged for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and the Mountaineers had to punt.
Still, Grier had plenty of plays left in him – a 60-yard touchdown pass to Jennings early in the fourth quarter tied the game again. At that point, Grier went from going 0-for-5 in the first half on pass plays 20 yards or longer, to 4-of-7 for 160 yards. Clearly, he was getting better as the game wore on, much to the chagrin of Gators fans who watched their former quarterback put up numbers nobody has matched for their team since Tim Tebow.
But Jackson was getting better, too. His best drive came later in the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech coaches called a run play for No. 17 up the middle of the West Virginia defense, catching the Mountaineers completely off guard. He dashed for 46 yards, evoking memories of the last freshman to start a game for Virginia Tech (who also had a 7 on his jersey). Nobody should compare Jackson to Michael Vick just yet, but his numbers are better than those Vick put up in his debut -- for those interested in a point of reference.
Given the way Jackson grew up over four quarters, Virginia Tech should clearly be a contender to repeat as Coastal Division champ. As for West Virginia, it is pretty clear that with Grier leading the way, the Mountaineers are going to be involved in many more games like this one. The hope is to pull them out.