Last week was petty larceny. This was a Brink's job.
In broad daylight, in front of 59,800 eyewitnesses, Virginia Tech heisted an ACC football game Saturday from North Carolina and returned home to Blacksburg atop the conference's Coastal Division.
"We never claimed to be pretty," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said after his squad's second consecutive 20-17 victory.
Pretty? Who said anything about pretty? For 21/2 quarters, Tech was coyote ugly.
The offense was inept. The defense suffered two costly meltdowns. The Tar Heels led 17-3.
Only once in Beamer's 22 seasons had the Hokies rallied from 14 or more points down in the second half. And that was in 1995 against Virginia, when Tech was en route to the Sugar Bowl and boasted a big-league offense quarterbacked by Jim Druckenmiller.
Saturday the offense bordered on bush-league. Why, midway through the first quarter, the Hokies torched two timeouts without snapping the ball because they couldn't get the proper personnel on the field.
Backup quarterback Sean Glennon was so disheartened by the proceedings that he began warming up on his own early in the third quarter. Just in case.
But late in the quarter, something strange happened: Tech converted a third down.
The Hokies had misfired on nine of their previous 10 third downs, and this one was a briarpatch — third-and-7 from their 14, trailing by two touchdowns.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor rolled right, only to encounter end Robert Quinn, who dragged him toward the ground. But just before his knees hit, Taylor flicked a 15-yard pass to freshman Dyrell Roberts.
Beamer charged onto the field pumping his fist. Finally! Signs of life!
"A gutty play and a big, big play," he said.
Aided by two major North Carolina penalties, Tech subsequently completed an 89-yard drive to pull within 17-10.
Then Orion Martin, the Hokies' MVP, forced a fumble that Davon Morgan recovered at Carolina's 30. Then Taylor summoned the calm that separates him from most sophomore quarterbacks.
On third-and-9 from the 29, he dropped the shotgun snap, groped to regain possession, sprinted to his right and found freshman Jarrett Boykin for 13 yards.
"I knew it was third down and we needed yards," Taylor said. "I got caught looking at the secondary too much trying to see their rotation."
Two plays later, Kenny Lewis scored the tying touchdown, and on the next series Dustin Keys kicked the decisive 45-yard field goal.
As in last week's theft from Georgia Tech, the Hokies (3-1, 2-0 ACC) received and needed plenty of help in the form of opponent penalties — the 14 flags were the most against North Carolina since 2001.
Moreover, the Tar Heels lost quarterback T.J. Yates to a sprained ankle when Martin sacked him from behind for an 18-yard loss early in the third quarter.
Does North Carolina (2-1, 0-1) win if Yates doesn't get hurt? Probably.
Redshirt freshman backup Mike Paulus, brother of Duke basketball player Greg Paulus, had thrown one pass as a collegian. Saturday he threw two interceptions.
But give the Hokies credit. After their ghastly first half, they pounced on every opportunity and loose ball.
After yielding a 32-yard touchdown pass and 50-yard scoring run, the defense forced turnovers on three of the Tar Heels' last four possessions. The exception was a three-and-out.
"The way we just fought back, it's unbelievable," tailback Darren Evans said.
Evans rushed for 32 yards on the Hokies' penultimate series, when they moved from their own 2 to Carolina's 39 and milked 3:44 off the clock.
"We've been waiting for that moment," Beamer said. "We know we're gonna run. They know we're gonna run. Let's block people and get first downs."
Also on that drive, Glennon rushed onto the field when Taylor rolled an ankle and completed a 16-yard pass to freshman Danny Coale.
Talk about aces in the hole. When Yates limped off, the Tar Heels turned to a rookie. When Taylor got nicked, Tech turned to a fifth-year senior who's attempted more than 500 passes as a collegian and was the MVP of last season's ACC title game.
"I've got to be ready at any time," Glennon said.
Time is now the Hokies' friend. With upcoming games against Nebraska and Western Kentucky, they take a break from conference rigors that should make them better come the heart of the schedule.
Can this band of bandits contend for a second consecutive ACC title? Beats me, but they sure are daring, interesting and entertaining.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or at email@example.com. For more from Teel read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
Just call this one a great escape for Tech
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.