NORFOLK, Va. — This was supposed to be a relatively easy road trip for Virginia Tech. Cross the state, connect with some its fans and maybe a few recruits there, and pick up a routine victory against Old Dominion.
The Monarchs and their backup quarterback turned the Hokies first visit to their stadium into maybe the most notable victory in school history — in any sport.
Blake LaRussa came off the bench to throw for 495 yards and four touchdowns to lead Old Dominion to a 49-35 upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech on Saturday in the Hokies' first game at the cross-state school that restarted its football program in 2009.
LaRussa, who entered the game on ODU's second series, completed 30 of 49 and rushed for a touchdown to lead the 28½-point underdog Monarchs (1-3) to a stunning win over the Hokies (2-1) from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia Tech started the season with a decisive victory as an underdog against Florida State and now the Hokies are on the receiving end of what will likely be one of the biggest upsets of the season.
"I told them, 'I liked you guys a lot better when everybody told you you were terrible,'" Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said about his team. "When everybody told you you didn't have any chance in that first game, and all you did was work your tails off.' And then now we get all feeling good about ourselves and we got brought back down to earth. We got what we deserved."
Jeremy Cox's 40-yard touchdown run with 1:34 remaining sealed the stunner. After the game, the ODU faithful stormed the field.
Longtime ODU coach Bobby Wilder called it "one of the biggest moments in Hampton Roads sports history."
Virginia Tech beat ODU 38-0 in Blacksburg last year. This was the second meeting of a scheduled 13 over 14 seasons, including six in Norfolk.
The Hokies led 28-21 after a 72-yard touchdown pass from Josh Jackson to Damon Hazelton with 32 seconds left in the third quarter, but ODU scored on its next two possessions, taking a 35-28 lead on a 15-yard touchdown run by Cox with 9:57 to go - the Monarchs' first lead of the game.
Things got worse for Virginia Tech, as Jackson went down with a lower leg injury on the first play of the ensuing drive. Backup quarterback Ryan Willis led the Hokies on a 75-yard march that ended with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cunningham with 7:15 remaining, tying the game at 35.
But the Hokies simply had no answer for ODU. LaRussa polished off a 75-yard drive with a beautiful 29-yard fade pattern to Jonathan Duhart for a touchdown with 5:11 left that put ODU ahead to stay.
"At night when you dream about this game, this is what you picture," Monarchs wide receiver Travis Fulgham said.
Led by LaRussa and Cox, ODU finished with 632 yards against a Virginia Tech team that has prided itself on defense for decades under coordinator Bud Foster. Cox rushed for 130 yards.
"Very disappointed in how we competed," Foster said. "I just didn't think we competed for balls. We played just poor technique. We weren't ready to play is the bottom line and I take full responsibility for that."
Steven Peoples paced the Hokies with a career-high 156 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Jackson threw two touchdown passes before leaving with the injury. Fuente did not have an immediate update on Jackson's condition.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies looked flat coming off an unscheduled open week courtesy of Hurricane Florence, which forced last Saturday's cancellation of Virginia Tech's game against East Carolina. The Hokies' defense looked nothing like the unit that had given up just 20 points combined in the first two games.
Foster will have to shore up a banged-up secondary as Tech heads into ACC play.
ODU: The Monarch appear to have found a leader in LaRussa, who came into the game with 183 yards passing as a reserve, but surpassed that in the first half. The 5-foot-11 LaRussa showed uncanny accuracy against Virginia Tech's man coverage, taking advantage of the 6-foot-3 Duhart and 6-3 Travis Fulgham (188 yards). He may just be the spark the Monarchs needed after getting off to a dismal 0-3 start that included losses to Liberty, FIU and Charlotte.
Frustrations boiled over at several points throughout the second half for the Hokies, who ended up being penalized seven times for 95 yards. The cluster of penalties included four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, which drew the ire of Fuente.
"It's inexcusable," Fuente said. "What happened was we got in the middle of a real game - a real competitive game and things weren't going our way, and that's how we responded. And that's inexcusable.
Virginia Tech could very likely be unranked on Sunday when the new AP poll is released.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies open ACC play next Saturday when they take on Duke in Durham, North Carolina.
ODU: The Monarchs travel to East Carolina.