Home Virginia Tech finishes off turnaround in Year 2 under Brent Pry with bowl win

Virginia Tech finishes off turnaround in Year 2 under Brent Pry with bowl win

Scott Ratcliffe
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Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics

Not even a torrential downpour could slow down the Virginia Tech rushing attack Wednesday against Tulane, as quarterback Kyron Drones and running back Bhayshul Tuten ran over, around and through the Tulane defense, all the way to a 41-20 victory in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md.

As a result, the Hokies (7-6) finished the season with a winning record for the first time since the 2019 campaign and won their first bowl game since 2016, as the Green Wave (11-3) simply couldn’t contain Tech’s dynamic duo, who combined for 312 of the team’s 362 yards on the ground and 3 rushing touchdowns.

Drones, who threw a pair of touchdown passes along with another with his feet, set a program record for a bowl game with his 176 rushing yards (on just 20 carries). Tuten added 136 yards and two more touchdowns on 18 carries, and also caught two passes for 19 more yards.

“Credit to the O-line,” said Drones. “Just being physical up front. That’s what we said we had to do from the get-go, and then they were just able to create holes and just create for me and Bhayshul to be able to run the ball and let us go make plays.”

Tulane’s starting QB, Michael Pratt, opted out of the game, and after his backup Justin Ibieta was carted off after injuring his right leg with 8:32 left in the first half, it left the job up to Kai Horton, who had never played in a college game and had put his name in the transfer portal, but he was the Green Wave’s lone remaining quarterback.

After the Green Wave tied it up at 17-17 on a 6-yard quarterback scamper by Horton on the opening possession of the second half, it was all Hokies from there, powered by Drones, Tuten and the run game. The rain picked up as well, making things difficult for both teams in the passing game and forcing them to keep the ball on the ground.

“It was tough conditions,” said Pry. “You can’t really simulate it like that, but we got it together, we had each other’s back, which is important in those situations. I think they had the same weather we had, both teams had to deal with it.”

Tuten put the Hokies ahead to stay with his first touchdown of the day on the ensuing drive. John Love tacked on a 35-yard field goal, and Tech took a 27-17 lead into the final quarter.

Tulane made it a one-possession game, 27-20, with a short field goal on the first play of the fourth, but that’s as close as it would get. The Hokies wasted no time, as Drones went for 38 yards on the next snap into Tulane territory.

Two plays later, Drones picked up 17 more yards with his legs before tossing a 10-yard TD pass to Benji Gosnell to cap a 5-play, 75-yard march, and the Hokies led 34-20 with 12:38 to play.

“Anytime we’ve had success this year, we’ve been able to run the ball,” Pry admitted. “That’s who we need to be, that’s who we want to be. I think with Kyron, his ability to stretch the field sideline to sideline with his running opens it up for Bhayshul and [Malachi Thomas] and these guys. We’ve worked the alleys, which is really important, to make people defend more of the field. When we started doing that, we had more success.”

With the rainfall making it harder to throw the ball, the Hokies got just 91 yards all day through the air. Gosnell led the team with 21 yards and the touchdown on a pair of receptions. Drones completed 13 of his 21 attempts on the afternoon.

“Today had to be an unselfish night for the wideouts,” said Pry. “They just had to go out there and block their tails off and then they did it, but we’ve got some guys with Bhayshul and Kyron that really spark the run game and really get it going. Every time they touch the ball, they’ve got a chance to go the distance.”

It didn’t take long for the Hokies to put the game away, as Tulane coughed up the pigskin on its first snap after the Gosnell score. Horton completed a pass to Shedro Louis, but Tech’s Mose Phillips III got a paw on it and jarred it loose, and Mansoor Delane jumped on it to shift the momentum right back the other way.

Tuten applied the finishing touches with 9:33 remaining with his second touchdown run of the game, this one from 12 yards out, and the Hokie faithful who made the trip were partying in the rain.

“We’ve got the most unbelievable fan base,” Pry said after the game. “A testament again tonight — they sat through that rain cheering these guys on, they weathered the adversity just like the players did, and stayed to it.

“Very proud of everybody’s effort. The team stuck together all year, ignored the noise, when it was bad and when it was good, and just stayed the course. We were truly a team that just kept getting better and better in a lot of places, and we needed to, to garner our seventh win. We’ve got a lot of work left to do as a program, but I’m very proud of these guys — they deserve it, they’ve worked their tails off, they’ve stayed together, they’ve sacrificed and committed.”

Tulane jumped out on top to start the game on a scoop-and-score fumble return with 12:01 left in the first quarter, as the ball fell out of Drones’ hands and into the hands of Tyler Grubbs, who hustled 21 yards to the house.

Tech got on the board on a Love 35-yarder with 5:33 to go in the opening period. When the Hokies got the ball back, Drones’ screen pass to Tuten was dropped on third-and-3, and the punt team came onto the field. A little “Beamer Ball” set up the Hokies at the Green Wave’s 11-yard line, however, as Tulane mishandled the punt return and Tech’s Da’Wain Lofton came away with the ball.

One play later, Drones appeared to score on a keeper, as was the call on the field. The ball popped out at the tail end of the play, just as Drones was crossing the plane. After a long review, the call was upheld and Love’s extra point gave the Hokies a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter.

The Green Wave had a first-and-goal at the 2 on the ensuing drive, but had the ball popped loose by Tech’s Pheldarius Payne, and it was recovered by Antwaun Powell-Ryland at the 4, and the Hokies dodged a bullet early in the second.

The Tech defense later limited Tulane to a Valentino Ambrosio 49-yard field goal on a fourth-and-31, which tied the score at 10-10 with 4:40 until halftime.

That turned out to be plenty of time for Tech to reclaim the lead before the break, as Drones moved his offense into field-goal range. Tuten got the ball to the 1-yard line before Pry took a timeout with 10 ticks showing, and Drones found Harrison Saint Germain in the end zone for his first career touchdown with 8 seconds on the clock, and it was 17-10 going into the locker room.

Tuten, who played his first two seasons at North Carolina A&T, also plans to return to Tech next year. Drones, who played one season at Baylor before transferring to Blacksburg, has already announced his plans to return for his junior season.

“He’s a special talent,” Pry said of his quarterback. “His legs, his arm, his decision-making… he’s only going to get better and better. That’s what he’s done since he’s been here.”

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.