BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Looking around at his mostly inexperienced teammates, Victor Harris probably felt more qualified than most to offer some perspective on the circuitous path Virginia Tech took to its second straight conference championship game.
"Last year, we had all those veterans and seniors and stuff like that that had been through the fire before," Harris said Saturday after the Hokies got a fourth-quarter field goal from Dustin Keys and a clutch interception in a 17-14 victory against Virginia.
"This year, we just had to hang in there. Just for a bunch of younger guys to come around and play hard and come together for one purpose, that's a beautiful thing."
Missing, among others, seven defensive starters lost to graduation, the top four wide receivers and a former All-ACC tailback, the Hokies (8-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) still managed to win the Coastal Division title and a date with either Florida State or Boston College next weekend in Tampa, Fla., a berth in the Orange Bowl on the line.
And they look more prepared to do it than they have in weeks, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor finally mixing in some effective passing to go with his scrambling, and the defense playing solidly.
"The last few weeks, we've really played the kind of defense that we're used to seeing around here," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said of his unit, a perennial top-10 defense in the nation that is back there again even with a slew of first-year starters.
The Hokies sealed the victory with two defensive stands. First, Dorian Porch intercepted Marc Verica in the end zone with 2:15 to play. Then the Hokies held the Cavaliers to negative yardage on the final series.
In the process, the Hokies found an answer for surprise Cavaliers quarterback Vic Hall, and deprived Virginia (5-7, 3-5) of an opportunity to go to a bowl game for the second time in three years. In the middle year, they kept the Cavs out of the ACC championship game.
The 5-foot-9 Hall, one of the nation's most productive high school quarterbacks before being switched to cornerback at Virginia, ran for 109 yards and touchdowns of 40 and 16 yards, and seemingly set the Cavaliers up for at least a tying field goal when he ran 39 yards to the Hokies 24 late. But after two plays lost a yard, Verica came on facing a third-and-11 and threw toward the end zone, where Porch easily intercepted to end the threat.
The victory was Virginia Tech's fifth straight and ninth in the last 10 meetings.
"I feel like we've been a couple of plays away each year we play these guys," Virginia linebacker Jon Copper said. He and nearly two dozen others Cavaliers finished their careers winless against Tech.
Hall wasn't the only quarterback making people miss.
Taylor ran for 137 yards, including a 73-yard burst on the drive to the winning field goal, and threw for a touchdown, while 280-pound Greg Boone ran for a TD out of the Wild Turkey formation, easing the disappointment of three long drives that yielded nothing.
"That's been the story of the season," Taylor said after going 12-for-18 for 137 yards. "We just fought hard, never gave up, and everyone on the team believed and now we're here."
The winning drive was a 10-play, 40-yarder and it never included a third-down play until the end, and when Taylor was stopped for no gain on a third-and-7 draw from Virginia's 11.
Keys, whose short miss earlier was wide right, converted when it counted.
The Hokies tied it at 14 on their first possession after halftime.
Taylor's career-best 73-yard run went down the left side to the Virginia 9, and after Darren Evans ran for 5 yards, Boone took a direct snap and powered up the middle.
Virginia managed only 101 yards on offense after halftime, and just 249 in the game.
Much of what they did was because of Hall.
Viewed by some as too small to play quarterback, Hall still owns Virginia state high school records for career total offense with 13,770 yards, and he quickly had people wondering why he hadn't been given an opportunity on offense sooner.
On the Cavaliers' opening drive, he had runs of 14 and 1 yards before Verica came on to complete a 4-yard pass to Kevin Ogletree on third-and-4 from the Hokies 44. On the next play, Hall took the snap, ran off right tackle and into the clear, going 40 yards for the TD.
Virginia Tech answered with a 65-yard, 13-play drive to Taylor's 3-yard scoring pass to Jarrett Boykin, and the Hokies put the clamps on Hall's running for the next two series.
But after Cedric Peerman's 16-yard run got the Cavaliers to the Hokies 31 late in the second quarter, Hall threw his first pass, a deep ball to Maurice Covington that drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty on Kam Chancellor, and ran 16 yards for a TD on the next play.
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