Physical play from Hokies defense sets the tone in spring football game –

BLACKSBURG — Spring football games don’t normally feature ferocious hitting, but that didn’t stop Virginia Tech sophomore defensive back Jermaine Waller from delivering a jarring shot to redshirt freshman wide receiver DeJuan Ellis in the end zone, breaking up a touchdown pass when the force of Waller’s blow dislodged the ball.

After last year, when the Hokies defense struggled mightily as the team posted its first losing record since 1992, you could excuse Bud Foster’s unit for wanting to show that next season will be different.

“I had to do what I had to do,” said Waller, while admitting he backed off a little bit, not wanting to risk injuring a teammate.

Ellis had to be helped off the field, but returned later and picked up 48 yards on a jet sweep.

“He sees a shot, he’s going to take it,” said junior defensive end Emmanuel Belmar.

“He really could’ve boomed him a little better. But I’ve seen him do that a lot.”

The defense stopped the offense on the first three red zone possessions of the scrimmage portion of Saturday’s spring game, before redshirt freshman running back Caleb Steward ended the fourth drive with a spinning, 3-yard touchdown to get the offense on the board.

Senior quarterback Ryan Willis, working with the first-team offense, threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Mitchell, and redshirt freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson ran for a score and threw for another in the first part of the day’s practice, the portion where Tech kept score.

The defense won that portion 21-14, getting seven points for each of its three stops, in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 Saturday at Lane Stadium.

“I feel like we could have done more on the field today,” Willis said. “I feel like our second scrimmage a week ago was probably our best scrimmage. We’re just scraping the surface of what this offense can be. I think we have the potential to do great things this year.”

In the scrimmage portion of the spring game, Willis went 6 of 9 for 75 yards, including the touchdown to Mitchell. Hooker was 6 of 12 for 61 yards and Patterson went 1 of 5 with the 4-yard score to Hazelton.

Bell carried 10 times for 33 yards, Steward nine times for 38 and the touchdown and Holston had five rushes for 5 yards.

Willis’ spot in the rotation made it clear he’s the team’s No. 1 quarterback this spring, but coach Justin Fuente maintains all three players are still competing. Tech has three more spring practices after Saturday because of a late schedule change.

“I can’t announce myself,” Willis said when asked if he felt like the team’s starter.

Junior kicker Brian Johnson struggled, going 1 for 4 on field goals, but producing one of the day’s more humorous moments.

When Tech coach Justin Fuente asked him what was wrong after one of his misses, Fuente said Johnson responded, “I feel great,” to which Fuente said he answered, “Well start making some.”

After the intermission, Tech continued to scrimmage, though it shuffled the first, second and third-team lineups. Wide receiver Phil Patterson had the highlight of that portion, going up for a one-handed touchdown catch over cornerback Caleb Farley, hauling in a fade pass from Willis despite tight coverage.

Willis also hit sophomore wide receiver Tre Turner for a 62-yard touchdown pass after Turner got behind junior cornerback Bryce Watts.

Tech’s secondary struggled last year, especially in the upset loss at Old Dominion. With all of those players returning, defensive coordinator Bud Foster is hoping the unit makes major strides going forward, and that last season’s disappointment fuels them.

“The best teacher for us is experience,” Foster said. “We had our moments last year, good and bad. Obviously, the kids here have a lot of pride. They understand the expectations.”

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