Hokies coach Justin Fuente finds no solace after disastrous final seconds against Liberty, still doesn’t regret calling timeout

Norm Wood, The Virginian-Pilot

There’s still no vaccine for post-bad-loss depression, no cure-all salve for the lingering pain of poor late-game management and failed execution.

Turning his attention to this weekend’s game against No. 9 Miami (6-1, 5-1 ACC), Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente quickly realized the sting of losing 38-35 last Saturday under such dramatic circumstances to Liberty wasn’t going away.

There was no immediate moving forward after his timeout with eight seconds left negated Jermaine Waller’s 59-yard blocked field-goal return for a touchdown, and Virginia Tech’s inability to defend Liberty’s final 8-yard completion that set up its 51-yard game-winning field goal.

“I don’t feel better at all," Fuente said Monday. “I mean, it’s just a hard one. ... I don’t regret taking a timeout there. I think the biggest thing that chaps my hide is, we have talked about it ad nauseum as a staff: I believe in taking a timeout there to make sure everything is set and I believe wholeheartedly in taking it before they snap the ball. The whole ‘take (the timeout) right as they snap it (for the field goal),’ I’m out on all of that — and that’s what happened.”

Fuente said he yelled at the official for a timeout well before the ball was snapped for the 59-yard field-goal attempt, but the official didn’t notice until Fuente either “jumped in front of him or screamed bloody murder” a split-second before the ball was snapped.

As for what ensued after the timeout was called and Tech (4-3, 4-2) took the field ill-prepared for Liberty to run one more offensive play, Fuente indicated it was chaotic on the Hokies' sideline as they tried to get the field-goal-block unit off the field and the defense back on — a defense that ended up in a “prevent” look and gave up the short pass.

“It was pandemonium," Fuente said. “Our starting (cornerback) just ran, whatever it was, 60 yards with the ball all the way down to the other end. Everybody thought, on the field, that we had won the game. ... It was just like the perfect storm of a really difficult situation there where we don’t have another timeout, obviously. We’ve practiced eight seconds to go in the game with a tie ballgame before with the ball on the 45-yard line. We have never practiced it after blocking a field goal, running it back for a touchdown, having called a timeout.”

Fuente had no updates on whether running back Khalil Herbert (hamstring), who returned a kickoff in the first quarter and didn’t play the rest of the game against Liberty, and tight end James Mitchell, who sat out against Liberty, will be available against Miami. There were also no updates on the statuses of linebacker Rayshard Ashby and defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt, both of whom suffered injuries against Liberty.

After the Flames’ Malik Willis passed for 217 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 108 yards and a touchdown, having all defensive hands on deck against another dual-threat quarterback like Miami’s D’Eriq King will be important, but Tech has to find ways to improve bad positioning and tackling against the run. Tech is giving up 202.9 rushing yards per game, which is 97th-best in the nation.

Tossing a football and a Wiffle ball around in the yard Saturday afternoon with his girls before it got dark was the only escape Fuente could find after the loss. It was a temporary reprieve.

“That made me feel better for 42 minutes, but I don’t know," Fuente said. "I try to be present with them when I’m with them and it helps some, but when you lay down and go to sleep at night and it’s still racing through your mind and you can’t get it out of your mind, there’s not many people to turn to then.”

Norm Wood, nwood@dailypress.com

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