LYNCHBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech slipped through its fingers two leads in the fourth quarter during its seven-game losing streak. Whatever could go wrong in the last 15 minutes seemed to do it for the Hokies.
Tech reversed his fortunes with two important takeaways and a go-ahead score that capped a career feat for his top running back.
Jalen Holston rushed for 99 yards and a career-high three touchdowns and Virginia Tech snapped a seven-game losing streak Saturday by overwhelming Liberty 23-22.
“They persevered, overcame adversity, and learned how to handle it better,” said Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry. “It was a good football team that we beat today.”
The Hokies’ defense, battered during the long slip, came with three big stops in the final minutes, first to close a five-point deficit and then maintain a valuable one-point lead.
Liberty backup quarterback Kaidon Salter, who led the team with 119 yards on a 12-of-18 pass, lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter as the Flames (8-3) led 22-17.
The Hokies (3-8, 1-6 ACC) responded with their third long shot on goal of the game. This one lasted 13 plays and stole 64 yards, culminating in Holston’s 1-yard rush for a 23-22 advantage with 7:46 remaining.
“He ran well,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said of Holston. “They blocked well and had a good plan.”
Liberty turned it around on the following possession when Salter, under duress, couldn’t find an open receiver on a fourth and 12th pass. The Flames were able to force a punt with a chance of victory in the final minutes.
TyJuan Garbutt recorded the Hokies’ fifth and final sack of the game when he snatched the ball from quarterback Johnathan Bennett and Jaylen Griffin recovered with 2:49 left.
Holston picked up a key first down, though Liberty defenders tried to carry it into the end zone so the Flames’ offense could get the ball back.
“They were in what is called ‘surrender.’ Their best chance of winning the game was to let us score,” Pry said. “Right from the start we let our kids know we weren’t going to score on this ride. We wanted to make the first descent and go down after the first descent so we could time the clock. Our employees have mastered this situation superbly.”
Holston’s 99 rushing yards were part of a season-high 176 yards on the ground for the Hokies. Keshawn King added 78 yards on 11 carries.
Quarterback Grant Wells completed 14 of 20 passes for 148 yards.
Bennett, who started the game as quarterback for Liberty, threw for 98 yards and scored the Flames’ only offensive touchdown on a 15-yard streak with 2:34 left in the first quarter.
Shedro Louis ran for 64 yards on nine carries. He missed the Connecticut game last week while attending his father’s funeral in Immokalee, Fla.
THE TAKE AWAY
Virginia Tech: The Hokies put up some fighting, taking a 23-22 lead in the fourth quarter on Holston’s third quick touchdown of the game. It was Tech’s first points in the fourth quarter since he scored 14 points against Miami on Oct. 15.
Liberty: The Flames lost their second straight game after rising to 19th in the AP poll two weeks ago.
Virginia Tech: Complete the regular season against Virginia on Saturday.
Liberty: Finished a two-game homestand with his regular season finale against New Mexico State on Saturday. Both teams are future members of Conference USA.