With time to burn on the clock facing third-and-2 on its arch-rival’s 16 yard line, Virginia Tech turned to the guy who has been converting third-and-2 for nearly five years.
Two yards was all Virginia Tech needed in order to run down the clock and set up a game-winning field goal attempt against Virginia. It was a kick that made the 2012 Hokies bowl eligible.
Two yards to go, and all 11 defenders knew who was getting the ball.
That’s Martin Scales’ game.
“It’s just a desire not to be denied,” said Scales, a Bassett native. “It’s like a ‘don’t quit’ (attitude). I like that. It’s like the odds are against you, but you prove people wrong. You’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Of course, Scales converted that first down, and as a result, Virginia Tech will play Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Friday in Orlando, Fla.
Scales, a former walk-on at Virginia Tech, didn’t play many offensive snaps until his redshirt-junior year in 2011. He didn’t make his first start at tailback until the final regular-season game of his career.
During his time as a Hokie, Scales fought an uphill battle. Whether it was jockeying for playing time, fighting for recognition or just battling for two yards, Scales would not be denied. With one game left in his career, Scales has one final fight left in him. But the greatest battle he’ll face as a Hokie, he’s already won.
Scales, a life-long Hokies fan, left Bassett High School in 2008 with dreams of playing for Virginia Tech. Soon after, Scales made the team as a walk-on.
But his path as a Hokie was hardly usual — even for a walk-on — and those dreams took a big hit.
Scales was dismissed from the roster because of an NCAA violation but invited to come back when he cleared things up. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound tailback was declared ineligible when his NCAA clearinghouse paperwork wasn’t submitted on time.
Scales then earned a general studies associate’s degree from Patrick Henry Community College, which allowed him to return to Virginia Tech in 2010.
Before long, Scales was getting opportunities on special teams.
The opportunities were a nice change, but he waited two years for them. And like anyone else, Scales could get frustrated at times, waiting for chances to prove himself.
“It was sort of like pouring your heart out when you’re doing the best you can and you don’t see any results,” Gracie Scales said of her talks with her son, Martin. “A lot of times, it didn’t seem like it was going to work, but when he did the best that he could and when he took his mind of himself and depended on the grace and ability of God, he saw it come through.”
Scales saw more playing time with the offense during his redshirt-junior season, but it was typically for just a handful of plays each game.
While some recruits arrive on campus with the expectation of a playing a specific role, Scales had to earn his spot. For some of his teammates, practice was all about preparing for the weekend battle of a game.
Scales faced his greatest challenge every day — the battle to prove he belonged.
And that’s exactly what he’s done.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Virginia Tech associate head coach and running backs coach Shane Beamer said. “Everything that he has is because of the hard work that he put into it, which is impressive. That’s showing this year. He’s a team-first guy and he loves playing football at Virginia Tech.”
Scales was always a contributor to Virginia Tech’s football program, even when he wasn’t on the field.
Beamer said Scales could consistently be found cheering his teammates on from the sideline when he wasn’t in the game.
But that’s simply a part of where he comes from. Scales has always been a team-first member.
“I came from a large family,” Gracie Scales said. “I have five brothers and a sister, and so we grew up that way. You all jump in together. Whatever needs to be done, do it, and get it done.”
When Scales would mow the lawn as a kid, his friends would tell him they wouldn’t do the same unless they were getting paid.
So why was Scales so willing to pitch in?
“Spankings,” Scales said with a laugh. “That’s just how everyone in my family is. It’s just ‘yes sir’ or ‘yes ma’am.’ I mean, since I was young, that’s all. You’ve got to give respect to get respect. All they (his parents) taught you is just to respect everyone and try to help whoever.”
It’s the same mentality that’s made him successful as a Hokie — and not just on the field.
Scales, now a graduate of Virginia Tech as of Dec. 21, said it was an accomplishment in itself.
During his time at Virginia Tech, he believes he’s been able to help more people off the field than on it. Scales said he had a number of speaking opportunities with youth groups or opportunities to help people who needed it as a Virginia Tech athlete.
And on the field?
There’s no denying he’s been very useful for the Hokies this season.
Despite being listed as the fourth tailback on the depth chart, Scales made large contributions this season.
Through the first eight games, Scales had a combined 23 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns — and perhaps even more important, no fumbles.
“All four running backs that we played this year, they all bring things to the table,” Beamer said. “They all have things that they do well and it’s our job as coaches that, whatever the game plan is that week, to put the guys in there that will make us successful.”
By the end of the season, Scales was returning the favor.
In a 30-23 overtime-win against Boston College, Scales converted a key third down in overtime after getting hit in the backfield by two defensive linemen. It was a third down conversion that helped set up the Hokies’ game-winning touchdown.
“I just remember getting the ball, and I thought I saw somebody, but I didn’t pay no attention,” Scales said. “On the film, it looked like he got good contact on me. But in the game, I was just like, ‘I just know somebody is over there.’ I just felt a bump and I just kept my legs moving.”
And then there was Scales’ third-down conversion which helped milk the clock to set up a field goal to beat Virginia at the end of regulation on senior day. Not bad for a first career start.
Beamer remembers when he broke the news to Scales.
“It was kind of a neat moment,” Beamer said. “I remember going home that night and telling my wife that that was kind of what makes college coaching so special. It kind of reminds you of the reason you do everything, is to see a guy that grew up a Virginia Tech fan, that worked his butt off to get himself in position to play at Virginia Tech. He’s been through some adversity and then being able to tell him during the week leading up to the game that he’s going to get the start against our arch rival is a pretty cool thing.
“It’s neat to see a story like a Martin Scales story take place here,” Beamer added.
And that story isn’t over yet.
Scales will take the field for the last time in a Hokies uniform on Friday against Rutgers.
From what the Hokies have seen on film, few tailbacks have been successful against a stout Rutgers defense that gives up 14.3 points a game.
“The ones who have had some success, they’ve got bigger backs who have just kind of pounded the ball up in there and broken tackles,” Beamer said.
There’s no guarantee Scales or any other running back will have such luck.
Scales thinks any success the team has on the ground against Rutgers will come down to blocking.
“They play good gap control,” Scales said. “Usually in the run game, it seems like they have some big holes and the running back will hit it hard. And you just have to be satisfied with three or four yards.”
Scales has lived off of three or four yards most of the year. It’s when the Hokies need less than 10 feet on the ground that they’re more inclined to turn to the big lumbering back.
And Scales, like he’s done with every other aspect of his playing career at Virginia Tech, will churn those legs and fight for what he can get.
“This opponent, and this game, is kind of a Martin Scales type game,” Beamer said last week. “We’re in the early stages of putting together a plan and things like that, but Martin will certainly have a big role in this game.”
The best part about that for Scales is nobody can say he didn’t earn it.