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Steady Offense, Pick-6 Leads West Virginia to Win Over Virginia Tech

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WVU wideout Sam James celebrates a touchdown catch against Virginia Tech on Sept. 22, 2022 in Blacksburg, Va. (Mitchell Northam / WV Sports Now)

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Jacolby Spells’ pick-six in the fourth quarter sealed the deal. That’s when herds of disappointed fans clad in burnt orange and maroon started leaving their seats en masse. And that’s when Lane Stadium became much less deafening.

Spells, a freshman cornerback for the West Virginia Mountaineers, wrote his name in the latest chapter of this rivalry when he jumped in front of Virginia Tech wide receiver Kaleb Smith to intercept an errant throw by Hokies’ quarterback Grant Wells. Spells dodged one would-be tackler, found an alley and sprinted into the endzone, giving the visiting Mountaineers a commanding three-possession lead with 9:36 left to play.

Virginia Tech never made a dent in that deficit. And so, in their first visit to Blacksburg since 2004, West Virginia retained the Black Diamond Trophy, beating the Hokies 33-10 in front of an announced sold-out crowd of 65,632 fans on a brisk Thursday evening.

For the Hokies (2-2), it was their most lopsided home loss ever to the Mountaineers (2-2) – a game that’s been played since 1912.

When it was all over, the fans in gold and blue hung around, and sang that old song by John Denver.

For the second straight week, the WVU defense was stout, holding Virginia Tech to just 2-of-10 on third downs, 0-for-2 on fourth downs, and just 228 yards of total offense. Wells – a Charleston, W.V. native – had his lowest completion percentage of the season so far with a 45.7% mark.

The Mountaineers were helped by the Hokies beating themselves a bit though. Virginia Tech racked up 15 penalties for 132 yards – their second-most penalty yards in a single game since 1987.

JT Daniels readies for a snap against Virginia Tech on Sept. 22, 2022 in Blacksburg, Va. (Mitchell Northam / WV Sports Now)

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were powered on offense by the steady play of quarterback JT Daniels, and workhorse back CJ Donaldson. Daniels completed 20-of-30 passes for 203 yards and a score, while Donaldson paced the offense with 23 carries for 106 yards. Coming into this game, Donaldson – a true freshman, listed on the roster as a tight end – had just 29 carries combined in WVU’s first three contests.

In all, the Mountaineers rushed for 218 yards on 46 carries – an average of 4.7 yards per-tote. Justin Johnson Jr. scored WVU’s lone rushing touchdown, a six-yard camper near the beginning of the fourth quarter.

After punting twice and fumbling once in three of its first four offensive possessions, West Virginia’s offense began to hum near the end of the first half. Beginning with a nine-play, 40-yard drive that ended with a 35-yard field goal by Casey Legg, the Mountaineers scored on each of their next five possessions. WVU took the lead just before halftime, capping a quick 70-yard drive – that lasted just six plays across 50 seconds – with Daniels connecting with Sam James in the endzone for a 24-yard touchdown strike. That gave WVU a 13-7 advantage at intermission.

Daniels had a completion percentage above 66% for the third straight game, and had his second straight game without an interception. Legg was perfect on four field goals and three extra points, and he is the only kicker in FBS who is perfect on eight field goal attempts this season. Legg trails only Wyoming’s John Hoyland (11) in total field goals made.

West Virginia racked up 32 first downs, which is tied for the second-most Virginia Tech has ever given up in program history. In 2018, a Paul Johnson-coached Georgia Tech triple-option attack had 35 against the Hokies.

The Mountaineers now hold a 30-23-1 advantage over the Hokies in the series. WVU will hang on to the Black Diamond Trophy for the foreseeable future, as the two former members of the old Big East have yet to agree to a deal for a future game. Both schools do have an open non-conference date in 2026 and 2031 though.

Next up for Neal Brown is a visit to Austin, Texas to face the Longhorns next Saturday.

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