EL PASO, Texas — It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, wearing street clothes on the sideline, his helmet and shoulder pads long since taken away by equipment manager Lester Carlin as the final seconds ticked away during the Hokies’ 42-12 loss to No. 17 UCLA in the Sun Bowl.
But after inflicting punishment on opposing teams with his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame so many times over the years, Thomas took a shot today that ultimately ended his college career.
With the Hokies embroiled in a tie game and facing third down with just more than 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter, Thomas rolled to his left and lofted a pass to wide receiver Josh Stanford. In the process, though, he left his body open to a devastating hit delivered just below his chinstrap by UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt.
Zumwalt was called for a personal foul due to the high hit, but that mattered little to the Hokies’ bench. For the first time in three years as Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback, Thomas lay prone on the turf unable to get up initially.
Both Hokies Coach Frank Beamer and UCLA Coach Jim Mora, in addition to a cadre of trainers, came onto the field to check on Thomas, who eventually walked woozily to the sideline. Though it appeared he suffered a concussion, trainers officially diagnosed a stinger for the Lynchburg, Va., native.
Thomas’s final college snap came just three plays after he had steamrolled through UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and carried a cavalcade of Bruins’ defenders on his back en route to a 27-yard gain.
In Thomas’s place, redshirt junior Mark Leal took the reins under center and performed admirably at times. But he couldn’t get the Hokies into the end zone.
Late in the third quarter, the Hokies did catch a break when UCLA’s Shaquille Evans muffed a punt and long snapper Eddie D’Antuono recovered the fumble at the Bruins 12-yard line. But after three plays, Virginia Tech was forced to settle for a 23-yard field goal by place kicker Michael Branthover that cut its deficit to 14-10.
UCLA had an answer, embarking on a 12-play, 85 yard drive that tailback Paul Perkins capped off with a five-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. On Virginia Tech’s ensuing drive, Leal then heaved a desperation pass as he was being sacked directly into the arms of Jack.
The Pac-12 freshman of the year on offense and defense returned it 24 yards for a touchdown that essentially put the contest away. Virginia Tech’s final points came via a safety when UCLA’s punter stepped out of bounds in the end zone, but Leal (11 of 24 for 128 yards) threw another interception to Zumwalt. The Bruins scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 59-yard strike from Brett Hundley to Evans.
UCLA’s 42 points were the most Virginia Tech has allowed in a bowl game since a 52-49 loss to California in the 2003 Insight Bowl. It’s also the most lopsided bowl loss the Hokies have suffered since a 42-3 defeat to North Carolina in the 1998 Gator Bowl.
The game began with Virginia Tech’s vaunted defense, which entered today ranked No. 4 in the nation in total defense, giving up yards on the ground and committing penalties like it never had before. It took UCLA just 1 minute 34 seconds and six plays to take a 7-0 lead when Hundley broke a tackle by Hokies defensive end Dadi Nicolas on a seven-yard touchdown run.
But Thomas and Virginia Tech responded before the first quarter ended. Following a nifty 19-yard scramble and two jet sweeps to wide receiver Carlis Parker, Thomas threaded a pass between two UCLA defenders and hit tight end Kalvin Cline for a 37-yard catch-and-run.
Tailback J.C. Coleman, starting in place of injured redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds (broken tibia), then tied the score at 7 with a one-yard plunge into the end zone.
But Hundley (398 total yards, four touchdowns) proved to be too much for Virginia Tech’s defense, which has had issues all season containing running quarterbacks. The redshirt sophomore finished the first half with 168 rushing yards on just six carries.
Hundley’s best scramble came soon after Thomas left the field when he broke off an 86-yard touchdown run, the longest Virginia Tech has ever given up in a bowl game. With just more than nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Hokies had already allowed a season-high 202 rushing yards.
Thomas, meanwhile, tried valiantly to re-enter the game following the crushing hit from Zumwalt.
After halftime, he sprinted on the field and even threw some warm-up passes. During a TV timeout as the Hokies prepared for their second drive of the second half, he even stood in the middle of the offensive huddle next to Leal wearing his helmet.
Soon thereafter, though, Thomas was given the grim news that his career was officially over. He reacted by removing his shoulder pads and throwing his wrist bands off in disgust.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.