Virginia Tech junior kicker Cody Journell shook off a missed field goal in the fourth quarter Monday night and provided the heroics for the 16th-ranked Hokies in a 20-17 overtime victory over ACC Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech at Lane Stadium.
Journell kicked a 41-yard game-tying field goal at the end of regulation and then booted the game winner from 18 yards out in Virginia Tech's first-ever overtime game on its home field.
"I just tried to let everything go and do what I had to do," said Journell, who blamed poor mechanics for his 38-yard miss early in the fourth quarter.
Georgia Tech failed to score on its only overtime possession. Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor forced a poor third-down throw by Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington that Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller intercepted in the end zone.
"They took it back. They did what they had to do to put the game into overtime, then won it in overtime," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "We kind of gift-wrapped it for them in overtime."
The Hokies then drove the ball to the 1-yard line before Journell kicked the game-winner on fourth down.
"I thought we hung in there pretty good," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
The Yellow Jackets scored a go-ahead touchdown on Washington's 10-yard pass to running back Deon Hill with 44 seconds remaining in regulation, but Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas drove his team down the field and into field goal range with six seconds left.
"I was proud of our offense for coming up and making some plays when we really needed to," Beamer said.
The winner of this matchup has gone on to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC championship game every year since divisional play began in 2005, and many believe the Hokies and Yellow Jackets are the top two contenders this season.
Virginia Tech broke a string of season-opening losses to Football Bowl Subdivision teams that dated back to 2008. The Hokies were 0-3 in their last three openers against FBS opponents, with neutral site losses to East Carolina in '08, Alabama in '09 and Boise State in '10. The Hokies are now 18-8 in season openers under Beamer.
Georgia Tech dropped its season opener for the first time since suffering a road loss to Notre Dame to start the 2006 season.
"Well, that was a tough game to lose," Johnson said. "It would have been tough for either team to have lost. We fought back and forth, a physical football game. I thought we got the momentum late, and to their credit, they came back."
Virginia Tech has now won three straight in the series with Georgia Tech and four of the last five. Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson fell to 1-4 against the Hokies.
Virginia Tech took a 14-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass from Thomas to redshirt freshman wide receiver Demitri Knowles.
Knowles, a former track standout, ran past Georgia Tech cornerback Rod Sweeting and caught the long scoring strike in the end zone.
"I don't think that's going to be the last defensive back he runs by," Beamer said.
Before that play, Virginia Tech had managed only 72 yards in the second half.
Georgia Tech put together its first extended offensive drive of the game in the third quarter, driving 56 yards on 15 plays in 7:18. The Yellow Jackets, who held the ball for 12:52 in the third quarter, capped the possession with a 34-yard field goal by David Scully to take a 10-7 lead.
Virginia Tech missed a chance to tie the game early in the fourth quarter when Journell misfired on a 38-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left. Journell said he didn't follow through properly on the kick, but his teammates picked him up on the sideline and told him to be ready for another opportunity.
The first half ended with the teams tied 7-7.
Virginia Tech got on the scoreboard first with a 12-play first-quarter drive that ate up almost five minutes and culminated with Thomas' 5-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Eric Martin.
Thomas lobbed the pass over the outstretched arms of Georgia Tech defensive backs Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Gordon and connected with Martin near the back of the end zone.
A special teams miscue set up the tying touchdown by Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech freshman punter A.J. Hughes mishandled a snap in the first quarter and fell on the loose ball for a 22-yard loss at the Hokies' 24-yard line.
"We had a malfunction tonight that cost us, but we're going to be OK (on special teams)," Beamer said.