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Manuel, Seminoles stave off Hokies' upset bid

The SportsXchange

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech sacked Florida State senior quarterback EJ Manuel five times Thursday night, more than any other team had this season. Yet Manuel kept getting up and making big plays.

Manuel passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns, and he led the 10th-ranked Seminoles to a fourth-quarter comeback in a 28-22 win over the Hokies at Lane Stadium.

Manuel, a Virginia Beach native playing in a college game in his home state for the first time, completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rashad Greene with 40 seconds remaining. He then connected with tight end Nick O'Leary for a two-point conversion.

"Nobody was fearful of the situation," Manuel said of the game-winning drive. "I think we embraced it more than anything. That's where legends are born, and we felt that way tonight."

Florida State (9-1, 6-1 ACC) remains in control in the ACC's Atlantic Division, while Virginia Tech (4-6, 2-4) is in jeopardy of missing the postseason altogether.

The Hokies, who fell to 7-31 against top-10 teams under coach Frank Beamer, are guaranteed to finish .500 or worse for the first time since 1992. They need to win their final two games to continue their 19-year bowl streak.

"You've got to battle back. We've got to do it again," Beamer said. "After a tough loss like this, going to Boston College (next week), it's going to be colder than heck up there and all that stuff. So you've got to be mentally tough and physically tough. We've got to battle back."

Virginia Tech made a valiant effort but couldn't make enough stops on defense or plays on offense to complete the upset bid. The Hokies held the Seminoles to a season-low 311 total yards and a season-low minus-15 rushing yards.

They blitzed Manuel relentlessly, but he remained unshaken.

"The main thing was just getting up. I kept losing my air," Manuel said. "Usually I don't stay on the ground. I hate that, but I couldn't breathe. I just tried to gather myself, get back up and keep playing."

The Hokies were left shaking their heads after losing in the last minute for the second time this season.

"It's heartbreaking. You never want to lose a game like that," Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum said.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said he expected a physical, down-to-the-wire game, and that's what he got.

"We told them all week it's going to come down to the end, there's going to be adversity, all those things. This is going to be no cakewalk. We knew 100 percent it was going to be a slugfest," Fisher said.

The Hokies got to the Florida State 40-yard line on the final drive, but quarterback Logan Thomas, who finished with 298 passing yards, one touchdown pass and two interceptions, was picked off by Florida State defensive back Tyler Hunter at the 30 with 27 seconds remaining.

"We just weren't on the same page there," Thomas said. "I'll take the blame there."

Virginia Tech went ahead 22-20 on Cody Journell's 21-yard field goal with 2:19 remaining, but the Hokies' defense, which was stout most of the game, couldn't hold the lead.

Florida State capitalized on a third-quarter Virginia Tech turnover to go ahead 20-10. Hokies wide receiver Marcus Davis lost a fumble near midfield, and the Seminoles scored a short time later on Manuel's 10-yard pass to wide receiver Greg Dent.

Virginia Tech answered with touchdown on its next possession. Thomas completed passes of 44 and 14 yards to senior wide receiver Corey Fuller, and the quarterback scored on a 5-yard run to pull the Hokies to within 20-17.

The Hokies drew even closer midway through the fourth quarter on a bizarre play. Florida State tailback Devonta Freeman tried to avoid a safety by throwing the ball forward, but he was penalized for an illegal forward pass, which resulted in a safety anyway, cutting the Seminoles' lead to 20-19.

Florida State scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Manuel to wide receiver Greene with 48 seconds left in the first half to take a 13-10 lead into the break.

The Virginia Tech defense held the Seminoles to only two Dustin Hopkins field goals before the last-minute scoring strike.

The Hokies struggled offensively for most of the first half before putting together a touchdown drive late in the second quarter. Thomas connected on two big third-down passes to Fuller and then delivered a perfect 4-yard fade pass over the shoulder of Florida State safety Lamarcus Joyner that Fuller caught near the right side of the end zone for a touchdown.

Virginia Tech held Florida State's high-powered offense to only 161 yards in the first half, and the Hokies forced two turnovers that they failed to convert into points.

The Seminoles scored on their first possession on a 52-yard field goal by Hopkins. The Hokies answered with a 35-yard Journell field goal on their first possession but then went five consecutive drives without a first down.

Florida State took a 6-3 lead at the beginning of the second quarter on Hopkins' 45-yard field goal, and that score stood until Thomas' touchdown pass with 2:49 remaining in the second quarter.

NOTES: Hopkins is 3-for-3 on field goals longer than 50 yards this season, with a long of 56. ... Thomas leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 14 interceptions on the season. ... Virginia Tech freshman Donovan Riley's first-quarter interception was the Hokies' first forced turnover in eight quarters. ... Seminoles wide receiver Rodney Smith has caught a pass in 35 consecutive games. ... Hunter muffed a punt in the second quarter, and the Hokies recovered at the Seminoles' 30-yard line. The Hokies were held without a first down, and Journell missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. It was Journell's second miss in his last three attempts.
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