The No. 21 Virginia Tech Hokies opened their 2017 season with a 31-24 marquee nonconference win over the No. 22 West Virginia Mountaineers on Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
The former Big East rivals met for the first time since 2005, and the ACC representative earned bragging rights over the Big 12 team thanks to a defensive stop in the red zone on the final play. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier's last pass fell incomplete and ended a momentum-fueled battle between the two schools.
Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson led the way with 235 passing yards, 101 rushing yards and two total touchdowns.
Jackson shined in a quarterback battle that took center stage with two first-time appearances. The redshirt freshman thrived against a formidable power-conference opponent in his college football debut and demonstrated his dual-threat abilities with a clutch 46-yard run before Travon McMillian scored the winning touchdown.
Virginia Tech's 234 rushing yards forced West Virginia's defense into the box for stretches, which opened up the throwing lanes for Jackson in the second half.
On the other side, Grier made his Mountaineer debut after transferring from Florida and serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. He lost out to Jackson but turned around what started as a poor offensive showing into a formidable performance.
In all, Grier threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns, although he also tossed the game's only interception. Justin Crawford provided support with 106 rushing yards, but he was given just 13 carries despite an 8.2-yard average.
Even with the quarterbacks, the start was all about defense, as Virginia Tech took a narrow 10-7 lead into the half. The early performances were impressive, considering the Hokies averaged 35.0 points per game last season, while the Mountaineers countered with 31.2.
The offenses found their explosiveness in the second quarter when Crawford's long run set up Grier's first touchdown pass to David Sills V before Jackson struck back with his touchdown run.
It set the stage for a back-and-forth second half featuring a number of game-shifting plays, starting with Deshawn McClease's powerful go-ahead touchdown in the third:
Couldn't. Be. Stopped. West Virginia-Virginia Tech is streaming on the ESPN App. https://t.co/CyjwG3RDuy2017-9-4 01:57:21
Ralph D. Russo @ralphDrussoAP
Hokies might have found something with DeShawn McClease.2017-9-4 01:48:42
Momentum remained fleeting, though, as Joey Slye's missed field goal set up one of Grier's best sequences. He spearheaded the game-tying drive with long passes to Ka'Raun White and Gary Jennings before another scoring strike to Sills.
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports praised Grier's turnaround after a slow start:
Bruce Feldman @BruceFeldmanCFB
#WVU's Will Grier has settled in nicely tonight against a really good Bud Foster D. Making some plays with his legs & throwing some dimes.2017-9-4 02:09:46
Grier was just getting started, as his 60-yard touchdown pass answered a stretch of dominance from Virginia Tech that featured a 44-yard kick return and 32-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Cam Phillips on back-to-back plays.
Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen also committed an unsportsmanlike conduct violation during Virginia Tech's turn to hold momentum, but the game was still tied heading into the final 10 minutes following the connection from Grier and Phillips.
Jackson proved he was fast enough with his 46-yard scamper before McMillian's winning score, although Grier received one more chance after Slye missed another field goal on a drive that featured head coach Justin Fuente's unsportsmanlike answer to Holgorsen.
Grier drove the Mountaineers to the 15-yard line before the final pass fell short as time expired.
Virginia Tech now has a realistic chance enter its Sept. 30 showdown with Clemson with an undefeated mark with games against Delaware, East Carolina and Old Dominion in the coming weeks.
West Virginia will look for its first win of the season Saturday in its home opener against East Carolina.