A soaking rain turned much of the playing surface at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium into a sloppy mess at Wednesday afternoon’s Military Bowl. But as Kyron Drones led the charge, the slick and occasionally treacherous conditions did little to slow Virginia Tech’s rushing attack.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback ran for 176 yards to set a program bowl record and the defense recovered three fumbles in a 41-20 triumph over Tulane that gave the Hokies (7-6) their first winning season since 2019.
Junior Bhayshul Tuten added 136 rushing yards and two touchdowns as Virginia Tech amassed 453 yards, including 362 on the ground, in its third appearance (and second win) in the Military Bowl. Tulane fell to 11-3 in its Military Bowl debut.
“It was just a credit to the O-line really — just being physical up front,” said Drones, a transfer from Baylor who threw for two touchdowns, ran for one and was named the game’s most outstanding player. “That’s what we said we had to do from the get-go, and then they were able to create holes for me and Bhayshul to be able to run the ball and let us go and make plays.”
Tuten’s second touchdown, with 9:33 remaining, all but sealed the outcome and gave the Hokies their first bowl victory since 2016, when they defeated Arkansas, 35-24, in the Belk Bowl. Virginia Tech had lost four straight bowl games since.
Tulane recovered a fumble by Hokies wide receiver Jaylin Lane and tied the score at 17 on quarterback Kai Horton’s six-yard scramble just 2:08 into the second half. The Hokies went ahead to stay less than three minutes later via Tuten’s nine-yard run on a toss to the left. Drones, who set the Military Bowl rushing record by a quarterback, had gotten Virginia Tech into that position thanks to a 51-yard run during which he dodged defenders at the line of scrimmage and found open field up the middle.
A touchdown with eight seconds left in the second quarter gave the Hokies a 17-10 lead at halftime. On second and goal at the 1-yard line, Drones threw over the middle to redshirt freshman Harrison Saint Germain (Westfield), a tight end who was pressed into service after starter Dae’Quan Wright entered the transfer portal.
Virginia Tech claimed its first lead, at 10-7, on Drones’s 11-yard run with 2:20 to go in the opening quarter. Drones lost the ball while diving across the goal line, but the touchdown call stood upon review.
In danger of losing the lead soon after, the Virginia Tech defense stiffened with Tulane facing first and goal at the 1. Defensive tackle Pheldarius Payne burst through the line to strip the ball from Horton, and defensive end Antwaun Powell-Ryland recovered at the 4-yard line.
The soggy conditions wreaked havoc on Virginia Tech’s offense early. On third and 10 from the Hokies’ 39, Drones dropped back to pass but lost his grip on the ball, allowing Green Wave linebacker Tyler Grubbs to scoop and score from the 21 for a 7-0 lead with 12:01 to play in the first quarter.
“It was tough sledding in the first half … but just pounding it and pounding it,” Tuten said. “I think we were more physical than them, and we made them throw in the towel, I would say. We just totally dominated them.”
Virginia Tech was in its first bowl game under Brent Pry, formerly the defensive coordinator at Penn State, who took over in November 2021 with a mandate to revive the program. The Hokies went 3-8 in 2022 but won four of their final six regular season games this year to return to a bowl game.
Tulane was playing its first game since coach Willie Fritz left for Houston after eight seasons. That left assistant Slade Nagle in charge Wednesday; Jon Sumrall, previously the coach at Troy, will be the Green Wave’s next full-time coach.
Also conspicuous in his absence was Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt, the school’s career leader in passing yards and the American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year. He opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for Tulane — 11 wins,  wins over a couple years, won the Cotton Bowl [last season],” Pry said. “It’s hard, and we’re making great progress. There’s a lot of great things happening at Virginia Tech right now, but there’s a lot of people pouring into it.”