No. 18 Va. Tech stages epic comeback, tops Arkansas 35-24 (Dec 29, 2016)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) It's never easy to replace an icon.
One way to do that is to create your own legacy, something first-year coach Justin Fuente is doing at Virginia Tech after taking over for Frank Beamer.
Jerod Evans threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two scores and No. 18 Virginia Tech pulled off an epic comeback - the largest in the school's 124-year history - by erasing a 24-point halftime deficit to beat Arkansas 35-24 on Thursday night in the Belk Bowl.
''It's a fantastic honor,'' Fuente said. ''And I think it speaks to our guys - the character and toughness and what it means to play for Virginia Tech. They love Virginia Tech.''
Along with that memorable feat, Fuente also won 10 games this season - something no other Hokies coach, even Beamer, can say he accomplished in his first season.
It wasn't easy though.
After being limited to 180 yards in the first half, the Hokies (10-4) took advantage of three interceptions by Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen and scored touchdowns on five of their first seven possessions of the second half to rattle off 35 unanswered points.
Fuente said the Hokies made minor adjustments to their pass rush at halftime, but it was ''nothing revolutionary.''
''Playing well was important to our kids today and we didn't do it in the first half,'' Fuente said. ''They regrouped. They came out and fought, and scratched and clawed and found a way to get the job done.''
Evans scored on a 4-yard run and threw touchdown strikes to Sam Rogers and Chris Cunningham to cut it to 24-21 In the third quarter. Travon McMillan put the Hokies ahead for good with 12:03 left in the game when he scored on a 6-yard run. Evans sealed the win with an 8-yard touchdown scamper.
''Everyone kept coming to me and telling me they're following my lead,'' Evans said. ''I definitely carried that with a chip on my shoulder, and made sure they understood that I'm with them until the wheels fall off. They fed off of me and I fed off of them.''
He completed 12 of 16 passes for 129 yards and two TDs in the second half.
Virginia Tech came in averaging 35 points, but the Razorbacks (7-6) set the tone early by turning Evans' fumble and interception into 10 points to take a 24-0 halftime lead.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks fought well in the first half but appeared to run out of steam coming out of the locker room as the protection broke down on offense.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies showed again they never quit. They rallied from 17 points down to beat Notre Dame 31-24 earlier in the season.
Allen was spectacular in the first half, completing 13 of 16 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns for the Razorbacks. However, he was limited 63 yards passing and picked off three times in the second half.
''The second half has been our melting point,'' Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. ''... I've never seen anything like it and the tied turn against us like that in all three phases of the game.''
ALL FOR NOTHING
With Arkansas leading 24-7, wide receiver Drew Morgan caught a 74-yard pass from Allen in the third quarter, but then fumbled at the 1 and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. However, the Razorbacks were bailed out because Virginia Tech was called for illegal hands to the face, giving them a first down - although 65 yards back down the field. But the fumble still proved costly as the Razorbacks would have to punt the ball away four plays later.
Morgan was ejected later in the game for unsportsmanlike conduct when he spit in the face of an opponent.
''That is very embarrassing as a head coach,'' Bielema said. ''I don't want Drew to be remembered for that. When you act out of character, you get out of character results.''
MVP, MVP, MVP
The MVP award was given to wide receiver Cam Phillips. He had six catches for 115 yards and said the comeback was something he wasn't sure would happen.
''When we got down 24 I was like `Sheesh, this is going to be kind of tough,''' Phillips said.
STEALING FROM THE SPONSOR?
Arkansas senior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle was suspended from the game after police accused him of shoplifting from the department store that sponsors the game. Sprinkle was charged by Charlotte Mecklenburg Police with shoplifting by concealment Tuesday at the Belk department store and was released. Players were given a $450 gift card to spend.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks open next season at home against Florida A&M on Sept. 2.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies will open next season against neighbor West Virginia on Sept. 2 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
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