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.
By: Steve Reed