BLACKSBURG, Va. - Just two weeks ago, the Virginia Tech football team believed it had as good a shot as anyone to win a national championship. After Saturday, though, the Hokies have to wonder if they could even win the Colonial Athletic Association title.
Five days after beginning the season with a loss to No. 3 Boise State, No. 13 Virginia Tech suffered the biggest upset of this young college football season, losing its home opener to division I-AA James Madison, 21-16, in front of a stunned crowd of 66,233.
It was the first time Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer has lost to a division I-AA opponent since taking over the program in 1987. It also was only the second time a division I-AA team defeated a ranked division I-A team, the first being when Appalachian State shocked No. 5 Michigan in 2007.
James Madison senior quarterback Drew Dudzik scored the game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard run, capping a Dukes comeback that began with them trailing 16-7 early in the second half.
"It's embarrassing. Words can't describe how I feel right now," said Hokies sophomore running back Ryan Williams, who rushed for 91 yards. "We should not be losing."
The Hokies have themselves to blame on a rainy afternoon that featured several offensive gaffes and plenty of missed tackles.
After Dudzik's touchdown gave the Dukes their first lead of the game, Virginia Tech senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor drove the Hokies inside the James Madison 20-yard line, but facing fourth and 2 at the Dukes 17-yard line, he could not connect with wide receiver Jarrett Boykin.
Then, after forcing a James Madison punt, the Hokies again drove down the field to the Dukes' 12-yard line, but junior running back Darren Evans fumbled with less than six minutes remaining, and James Madison recovered. The Dukes were able to run the clock out from there.
For the game, Virginia Tech got inside James Madison's 25-yard line six times while racking up 238 rushing yards, but only came away with one touchdown and three field goals from place kicker Chris Hazley.
"We need to block better," said Beamer, adding that the short week of practice after Monday night's loss did not contribute to the defeat. "I think the expectations are that this was gonna be a win."
At the start, it appeared as if the Hokies would be in for an easy victory. After forcing a three-and-out on James Madison's first possession, Taylor found Boykin for a nine-yard touchdown reception to give Virginia Tech a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
The completion capped off a 17-play drive that began on the Hokies' 6-yard line and took more than eight minutes off the game clock. The drive was Virginia Tech's longest, in terms of plays, since 2005.
But Virginia Tech's performance went from impressive to sloppy, and the momentum turned for good thanks to some mistakes by the Hokies' defense, a unit that features seven new starters this fall. After holding the Dukes to 10 yards on their first 12 plays of the contest, James Madison senior Jamal Sullivan took an innocent-looking swing pass down the sideline for a 77-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter, breaking three tackles on his way to the end zone.
"After we gave up that long touchdown, we kind of got down on ourselves a little bit," said linebacker Bruce Taylor, one of the culprits on the play. "That was a play that three, four guys had a chance to make a tackle. After that, I just feel we weren't the same."