Cody Journell knew why he’d missed a critical earlier field goal try.
He was delighted to get a chance to show it when he got another opportunity.
Journell kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime, then made a 17-yard field goal in the extra period to give No. 16 Virginia Tech a 20-17 victory against Georgia Tech on Monday night.
”I really just try to clear my head of everything whenever I’m out on the field,” said Journell, who earlier missed from 38 yards. ”I just tried to let everything go and do what I needed to do.”
The kicks rescued the Hokies from another crushing season-opening 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 Atlantic Coast Conference division foe.
It seemed fitting to Hokies coach Frank 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.”
Journell wasn’t the only star for the Hokies, but he was the biggest after what he said was his first career game-winner.
”He kicked a big one there tonight,” Beamer said. ”And that last one, that’s not an easy one with the pressure.”
Georgia Tech got the ball first in overtime, but quarterback Tevin Washington threw the ball away under pressure on third down and was intercepted by Kyle Fuller.
Washington’s 10-yard scoring pass with 44 seconds left in regulation had given the Yellow Jackets a 17-14 lead before Logan Thomas then drove the Hokies 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 trailed 17-14 until Journell made his first kick, depriving Washington of the comeback win in regulation.
Georgia Tech’s run-first quarterback hit Deon Hill with a 10-yard touchdown pass in the final minute, stunning the sellout crowd.
Four plays earlier, 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,” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson, who is 1-4 against the Hokies, said of his QB.
The Hokies, who had gone ahead 14-10 on Thomas’ 42-yard scoring pass to Demitri Knowles with 7:46 to play, got the ball back and drove to the Yellow Jackets 24 with 6 seconds remaining.
Georgia Tech used a timeout to try to ice Journell, but his kick sailed through the uprights to tie it at 17.
Fans, most of whom came clad in orange, didn’t even wait for the officials to signal the kick good, but took 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 as if the high humidity was finally starting to wear them down.
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 worked quickly. He 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 Kyle 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.