CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jerod Evans threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two scores and No. 18 Virginia Tech pulled off the largest comeback in its 124-year history, erasing a 24-point halftime deficit to beat Arkansas 35-24 on Thursday night in the Belk Bowl.
After being limited to 180 yards in the first half, Hokies (10-4) took advantage of three of Austin Allen's interceptions and scored touchdowns on five of their first seven possessions of the second half.
"Our kids have phenomenal character, work ethic and toughness," Hokies coach Justin Fuente said. "Playing well was important to them today and we didn't do it in the first half. They regrouped and said they were going to do it one play at a time and they came out and fought, and scratched and clawed and found a way to get the job done."
Evans scored on a 4-yard run and threw touchdown strikes to Sam Rogers and Chris Cunningham to cut it to 24-21 In the third quarter. Travon McMillan put the Hokies ahead for good with 12:03 left in the game when he scored on a 6-yard run. Evans sealed the win with an 8-yard touchdown scamper
Virginia Tech came in averaging 35 points, but the Razorbacks (7-6) set the tone early by turning Evans' fumble and interception into 10 points to take a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Arkansas extended the lead to 24-0 at halftime and it looked as if it might cruise to an easy victory.
But Evans had other ideas.
He completed 12 of 16 passes for 129 yards and two TDs in the second half.
Allen was spectacular in the first half, completing 13 of 16 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. However, his three interceptions in the second half proved costly and he was limited 63 yards passing.
"The second half has been our melting point," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "... I've never seen anything like it and the tied turn against us like that in all three phases of the game."
Fuente became the first coach in Virginia Tech history to win 10 games in his first season at the helm.
Fuente credited his seniors handling the change in the coaching staff so well and for developing into leaders.
"They desperately wanted to get Virginia Tech back in the ACC picture and in the national scene and back to 10 victories — and they did it," Fuente said.
The MVP award was given to wide receiver Cam Phillips. He had six catches for 115 yards.
Arkansas: They fought well in the first half but appeared to run out of steam coming out of the locker room as the protection broke down on offense.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies showed again they never quite. They rallied from 17 points down to beat Notre Dame 31-24.
ALL FOR NOTHING
With Arkansas leading 24-7, wide receiver Drew Morgan caught a 74-yard pass from Allen in the third quarter, but then fumbled at the 1 and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. However, the Razorbacks were bailed out because Virginia Tech was called for illegal hands to the face, giving them a first down — although 65 yards back down the field. But the fumble still proved costly as the Razorbacks would have to punt the ball away four plays later.
Morgan was ejected later in the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"I was told (by the officials) that he spit in the guy's face," Bielema said. "That is very embarrassing as a head coach. I don't want Drew to be remembered for that. When you act out of character, you get out of character results."
STEALING FROM THE SPONSOR?
Arkansas senior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle was suspended from the game after police accused him of shoplifting from the department store that sponsors the game. Sprinkle was charged by Charlotte Mecklenburg Police with shoplifting by concealment Tuesday at the Belk department store and was released. Players were given a $450 gift card to spend.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks open next season at home against Florida A&M on Sept. 2.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies will open next season against neighbor West Virginia on Sept. 2 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.