LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Virginia Tech had a pair of fourth-quarter leads slip through their fingers during its seven-game losing streak. Whatever could go wrong over the final 15 minutes seemingly did for the Hokies.
Tech reversed its fortunes with two key takeaways and a go-ahead score that capped a career performance for its top running back.
Jalen Holston rushed for 99 yards and a career-high three touchdowns and Virginia Tech snapped a seven-game losing streak by stunning Liberty 23-22 on Saturday.
“They persevered, handled the adversity and learned to get better through it,” Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry said. “It was a good football team we beat today.”
The Hokies’ defense, maligned during the lengthy losing skid, came up with three big stops in the final minutes to first erase a five-point deficit and then hold onto a precious one-point lead.
Liberty backup quarterback Kaidon Salter, who led the team with 119 yards on 12-of-18 passing, lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter with the Flames (8-3) leading 22-17.
The Hokies (3-8, 1-6 ACC) answered with their third lengthy scoring drive of the game. This one lasted 13 plays and picked up 64 yards, culminating in Holston’s 1-yard plunge for a 23-22 advantage with 7:46 remaining.
“He did run well,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said of Holston. “They blocked well and they had a good plan.”
Liberty turned it over on downs on the following possession when Salter was unable to find an open receiver while under duress on a fourth-and-12 pass. The Flames were able to force a punt with a chance to win it in the final minutes.
TyJuan Garbutt recorded the Hokies’ fifth and final sack of the game when he stripped quarterback Johnathan Bennett of the ball and Jaylen Griffin recovered with 2:49 remaining.
Holston picked up a key first down despite Liberty defensive linemen attempting to carry him into the end zone in order for the Flames’ offense to get the ball back.
“They were in what is called ‘surrender.’ Their best opportunity to win the game was to let us score,” Pry said. “From the get-go, we let our kids know that we would not be scoring on that drive. We wanted to get the first down and go down after the first down so we can run the clock out. Our staff did a great job managing that situation.”
Holston’s 99 rushing yards were part of a season-high 176-yard attack 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 at quarterback for Liberty, threw for 98 yards and scored the Flames’ only offensive touchdown on a 15-yard run with 2:34 remaining in the first quarter.
Shedro Louis rushed for 64 yards on nine carries. He missed last week’s game at Connecticut while attending his father’s funeral in Immokalee, Florida.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies showed some fight and took a 23-22 lead in the fourth quarter on Holston’s third rushing touchdown of the game. It was Tech’s first fourth-quarter points since tallying 14 on Oct. 15 against Miami.
Liberty: The Flames dropped their second straight game after rising to 19th in the AP Poll two weeks ago.
Virginia Tech: Wraps up the regular season Saturday against Virginia.
Liberty: Completes a two-game homestand with its regular-season finale Saturday against New Mexico State. Both teams are future members of Conference USA.