Just when it appeared "Beamer Ball" was about to bail out a sluggish offense again on Saturday, it was East Carolina, not the Hokies, who came up with the big special teams play.
And after T.J. Lee returned his own blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown with 1:52 left in a 27-22 upset win over the 17th-ranked Hokies, Beamer and Hokies were stunned.
"It hurts to lose on a blocked kick at the end," Beamer said.
Now Beamer knows how so many of his opponents have felt, as the Hokies lost for the first time in 18 games that they blocked a kick. Even a defensive touchdown wasn't enough as Virginia Tech's hopes of returning to a Bowl Championship Series game took a big hit on opening weekend.
"There's no excuse for that," Beamer said of Lee's block.
The win was another milestone for coach Skip Holtz, who was recently given a new six-year contract after rescuing the Conference USA program from tough times.
"It's a story of a group of young men that have come together and said, 'We're tired of losing. We want to accomplish something special,' " said Holtz, who has led the Pirates to consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1999-2000.
"Their working very hard for that on the field and I'm very proud of them."
After Patrick Pinkney's 3-yard touchdown run with 3:36 left cut the deficit to 22-20, the Pirates stopped the Hokies' struggling offense and quarterback Sean Glennon. Lee burst through the line of scrimmage unblocked, smothered Brent Bowden's punt with his left hand, scooped up the ball on one bounce and ran in for the winning score.
"It hit my arm. I was just looking around to see if anyone else could scoop and score," Lee said. "But I got a good bounce and came right to my hands. I just took it.
It quickly ended the flak the senior backup receiver and junior-college transfer received from his coach after early mistakes that included a 15-yard penalty for an illegal block that stalled a first-quarter drive.
"This was like a bowl game atmosphere for us," said Holtz, who last year guided the Pirates to an upset win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl. "To have the opportunity to come over here and play in a 70,000-seat NFL stadium, great city, where the fan base was pretty much even. To play a BCS team, what a great way to open the season."