GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP)—Virginia Tech put the game in Ryan Williams’ hands again. This time, he held on to it.
The freshman ran for a season-high 179 yards and the 22nd-ranked Hokies avoided their first three-game losing streak in six years, holding off East Carolina 16-3 on Thursday night.
Tyrod Taylor had a 13-yard touchdown run, Matt Waldron kicked three field goals and Williams atoned for his critical miscue last week against North Carolina by cracking the 1,000-yard mark for Virginia Tech (6-3).
“That fumble did something to me, mentally, last week,” Williams said. “I think the only person that was going to be able to overcome what happened last week was myself. … I realized that it happens to everybody, nobody can be perfect.”
Virginia Tech had a 379-277 advantage in total yardage, forced three turnovers and made just enough plays on offense to bounce back from losses to No. 10 Georgia Tech and the Tar Heels. The Hokies also avenged last year’s loss in Charlotte in which the Pirates turned the tables on Beamerball.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks here,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. “I use the word, ‘relentless,’ and that’s exactly how I described this football team. They were relentness. They just kept coming back and coming back and fighting their way through it.”
Williams, whose fumble in the closing minutes last week gave North Carolina a chance at a winning field goal on the final play, helped make Virginia Tech the third school to have freshmen rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive years after Darren Evans did it last year. Williams surpassed his 164-yard effort against Marshall and became just the second 100-yard rusher against by the Pirates this season.
“I ran the ride pretty good today,” Williams said.
Taylor finished 17 of 30 passing for 137 yards with another 61 yards on the ground for the Hokies.
Patrick Pinkney was 16 of 33 passing for 167 yards with a late interception for East Carolina (5-4), which was playing its first Thursday night home game since 2001 and hosted the Hokies for the first time since 2000.
The upstarts from Conference USA had won three of their last four against ranked teams, including last year’s 27-22 upset that was keyed by a late blocked punt, and they pulled out a few stops for this special occasion. They designated the game a “blackout,” welcomed back to town former star quarterback Jeff Blake and broke out a new helmet logo with a tricorne-clad skull and crossbones to replace the traditional “ECU.”
But ultimately, they had too much to overcome: Two fumbles in Tech territory, too many overthrown receivers by their sixth-year quarterback and some baffling-at-times decisions. Trying to tighten things up late in the third, East Carolina ran five consecutive direct snaps to receiver Dwayne Harris, but the last was stuffed for a drive-killing 8-yard loss.
“We just couldn’t get anything going (through the air),” Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. “It was like nobody was on the same page. We’re out of sync, we were out of rhythm. It didn’t look very pretty from where I was. … There are a lot of guys in that locker room that played well enough to win this football game. That’s what’s so frustrating about it.”
Virginia Tech, a 13-point favorite, was strong early—at one point holding a 252-109 advantage in total yards—but for a while, all the Hokies had to show for it was a pair of field goals.
Waldron kicked a career-long 41-yarder to cap their second series, then made it 6-0 with a 22-yarder late in the first quarter after a 75-yard drive stalled at the 5.
Taylor put the Hokies up 13-0 with his touchdown run with 2:06 before halftime, but the Pirates countered with a quick 73-yard march capped by Ben Hartman’s 24-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
At times, both teams had trouble stringing together a few positive plays.
One play after Dominique Lindsay’s 20-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding penalty, Rob Kass was stripped by Tech’s Cody Grimm. The Hokies gave it right back when—two plays after Williams’ 46-yard run—Taylor took off for the goal line but fumbled through the back of end zone for a touchback.
“Turnovers always hurt,” Lindsay said. “We know turning the ball over is something we can’t do against a great team.”