BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Frank Beamer is fond of apologizing for not remembering something from the past by saying, "that was a lot of fourth quarters ago."
He hasn't had many like the one No. 16 Virginia Tech put him through Monday night before beating Georgia Tech 20-17 in overtime.
Cody Journell kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime, then made a 17-yard field goal in the extra period for the victory. The Hokies' defense set up the victory by nearly burying Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington under a pass rush that caused him to try to throw the ball away, and he did — right to Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Even for September, and a season opener, the game could have huge implications in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
In the seven years the ACC has held a championship game, only the Hokies (five times) and Yellow Jackets have ever represented the division. The victory, because of tiebreakers, essentially gives Virginia Tech a two-game lead over the Yellow Jackets, though Beamer knows, it's still early. Very early.
"I think you've got an advantage," he said. "I don't think there's any question about that. A big advantage, but there's a lot of football to be played."
And, he hopes, a lot of it better football, especially by his offense.
The Hokies scored on their second series and seemed to be moving the ball with ease. Then they stalled on series after series until midway through the fourth quarter. They mustered only 326 yards of offense, severely taxing a defense that allowed just 288 to the Yellow Jackets' vaunted triple option.
But there were good signs, too, starting with the comeback, and the ability of Journell to shake off an earlier miss from 38 yards and make the big kicks.
"I really just try to clear my head of everything whenever I'm out on the field," Journell said. "I just tried to let everything go and do what I needed to do."
In the process, he prevented the Hokies from another crushing early season loss. They lost to East Carolina in their 2008 opener, Alabama in 2009 and Boise State in 2010, and in a season where some view them as national championship contenders, they couldn't afford to start with a loss to an ACC division foe.
It seemed fitting to Beamer that Journell came through. Last season, he missed the Sugar Bowl while serving a suspension for his arrest on felony breaking and entering charges. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing, and was reinstated under conditions set by athletic director Jim Weaver.
"Cody made a big mistake and I thought he paid a tremendous price," Beamer said. "But I think he knows that this is his family and we're all pulling for him."
Georgia Tech got the ball first in overtime, but Fuller was on the receiving end when Washington tried to throw the ball away.
"We kind of gift-wrapped it for them in overtime," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson said.
Until then, Washington's 10-yard scoring pass to Deon Hill with 44 seconds left in regulation had given the Yellow Jackets a 17-14 lead, capping a drive in which the quarterback known for his feet had shown his arm is pretty clutch, too. Four plays before the touchdown, Washington was flushed from the pocket on a fourth-and-6 play from the Hokies 37, and after eluding a pass rusher, he found B.J. Bostic with three defenders around him for a 19-yard gain on the right sideline to keep the drive alive.
"He made some great plays on the last drive in regulation," Johnson, who is 1-4 against the Hokies, said of his QB.
Then it was Logan Thomas' turn, and he drove the Hokies to the 24 for Journell's 41-yarder.
After Washington's turnover, the only one in the game, the Hokies got runs of 6 and 18 yards from Michael Holmes on the first two plays to set up the winner.
"I thought we hung in there great," Beamer said. "Those guys know what they're doing. They're tough all game. It's a right-at-you ballgame."
The Hokies had gone ahead 14-10 on Thomas' 42-yard scoring pass to Demitri Knowles with 7:46 to play.
Georgia Tech used a timeout to try to ice Journell before the tying kick, but his kick sailed through the uprights to tie it at 17.
Fans, most of whom came clad in orange, didn't wait for the officials to signal the kick good, instead taking their cues from the reactions of those with a better view and were already celebrating having scored more points in the last 7:46 than the first 52:14.
Before the offensive flurry in the fourth quarter, the game was a punting contest that turned on a punt that went awry.
Georgia Tech had managed just two first downs when Hokies freshman punter A.J. Hughes set them up with a mistake.
Dropped back in punt formation near midfield, he let a snap go through his hands and scrambled to fall on it for a 22-yard loss. That put the Yellow Jackets at the Hokies 24, and three runs tied it. On the 12-yard touchdown, Robert Godhigh went wide around the left side, dodged defenders, broke several tackles and scored easily, making it 7-7.
The mistake seemed to knock the Hokies off their stride, and neither team threatened the rest of the half.
The Yellow Jackets finally started moving the ball and went ahead 10-7 on a 34-yard field goal by David Scully to start the fourth quarter. The score came after a 15-play, 56-yard drive that not only took 7:18 off the clock, but included three short third-down conversions and left the Hokies defenders looking worn down in the humidity.
After falling behind, Thomas and the offense finally gave the defense a break, driving from their 23 to the Yellow Jackets 21 in 11 plays, but Journell missed the attempt.
The rested Hokies didn't let it keep them down long, holding the Yellow Jackets and forcing a punt.
This time, Thomas hit Marcus Davis for 35 yards on second down, and when Davis fumbled the ball at the end of the run, Corey Fuller recovered at the Yellow Jackets 42.
On the next play, Thomas hit speedy wide receiver Demitri Knowles for the touchdown in the right corner, his first career reception.
Knowles beat Rod Sweeting, who also was called for pass interference on the play.
The Hokies had the upper hand early, moving the ball and stopping the Yellow Jackets on three plays on their first series.
Thomas did the bulk of the work for the Hokies, running 4 yards for a first down on a third-and-2 play, and hitting Corey Fuller for 12 yards on third-and-11 from the Georgia Tech 34. After two runs by Holmes for 17 yards, Thomas floated a touch pass over the Yellow Jackets defense to Eric Martin for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.