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October 6, 2007
CLEMSON, S.C. ? Who needs an offense with a return game like Virginia Tech's?
In 21 seasons under coach Frank Beamer, the Hokies (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) have become college football's gold standard for special teams play. But Virginia Tech had never had both a kickoff and punt returned for scores in the same game before this one.
Virginia Tech's defense was strong, too. D.J. Parker had a 32-yard interception return TD on Clemson's first series and the Hokies held Clemson (4-2, 2-2) without a first down for nearly 21 minutes.
It barely mattered that the Hokies' attack sputtered almost as much with just 98 yards in the first two quarters - they still led 31-8 at the half.
The Hokies came into the season a national title contender, but were sent reeling after a 48-7 loss at No. 1 LSU on Sept. 8. The defeat led Beamer to promote talented freshman Tyrod Taylor at quarterback over Sean Glennon, and led some to speculate about just how good were these Hokies.
After a fourth straight victory - and a far more successful trip to this Death Valley - Virginia Tech looks as good as ever.
The Tigers made things interesting in the fourth quarter on Tyler Grisham's 3-yard touchdown catch and Aaron Kelly's 18-yard scoring grab. But that was as close as they could come.
Cullen Harper threw for 372 yards, setting school records with 38 completions and 66 attempts. Kelly had 11 catches for 174 yards and Grisham 11 for 100.
The loudest cheers at the end were "Let's Go Hokies" as much of the orange-clad fans filed out.
Virginia Tech took control in the first quarter once its special teams got cranked up.
Already ahead 10-0, Royal showed why Tech is the best in the business with a twisting return TD. His 82-yarder tied for the third longest in Hokies history.
Royal made it two in a row, taking another punt return score after Clemson's next series, but that one was called back because of an illegal block.
When the Tigers finally got on the scoreboard with Mark Buchholz's 33-yard field goal, Virginia Tech struck again, this time with Harris' kickoff return.
He cut to the sideline and was barely touched on the way to the end zone, putting Virginia Tech ahead 24-3 and leaving much of the 82,000 at Memorial Stadium wondering what happened.
Harris' return tied Larry Fallen's school-best effort in 1978, also against Clemson.
The three return TDs Saturday gave Virginia Tech 63 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999 - the most in college football in that span.
Royal, a senior, has two punt return TDs this year and three on his career. Harris, a junior cornerback, also had an interception.
Taylor finished with 118 yards rushing.
Clemson began the season 4-0 for the first time in seven years and appeared ready to chase an ACC title.
But the Tigers lost last week at Georgia Tech in an awful offensive performance. Back at home, they hoped to regain their footing - and get some payback for last season's humbling 24-7 loss on national TV at Virginia Tech.
Instead, Clemson heads into its off week likely minus its national ranking and with questions about its star rushers - "Thunder and Lightning" backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller ended with a combined 12 yards on 12 carries.