Virginia Tech 26, Virginia 9
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
This is simple. In the end, what doomed the Cavaliers to lose this game was the same thing that doomed West Virginia, as well: although each of Tech’s last two opponents had great defenses, they had big holes at quarterback and didn’t have the momentum or the motivation Tech carried into both games.
The key was for Tech’s offense to stay mistake free and to not to give up cheap points to the Cavs, which they did (stay mistake-free, I mean). I was fairly certain that by bringing all of Tech’s many offensive weapons to bear, Ricky Bustle could coax 2-4 touchdowns out of his team.
On the other side of the ball, Uva only had two scoring threats: Tiki Barber, and perhaps a long lob pass to Germane Crowell. I estimated that Tiki might be worth two touchdowns at most, but a TD pass to Crowell was unlikely, given that Tech’s defense almost never gets beaten on a deep pass.
On Friday, that’s exactly how everything played itself out. Ricky Bustle coached his best game all year, perhaps ever. He used every gun in the rack - Druckenmiller, Oxendine, Parker, Edmonds, Stuewe, Scales, White, and even Jennings. He baited Virginia with pump fakes and misdirections all day long, resulting in four touchdowns against the Cavs’ overagressive defense, one on a play that hadn’t been seen all year - the end-around to Scales that resulted in a 17-yard TD that sealed the game.
And as the game wore on, Bustle relied on the Hokies’ massive and talented offensive line, which outweighed Uva’s defensive line by 30 pounds per man, to take over, which they did.
To borrow a quote from a Stephen King book, “Nope - nothing wrong here.”
The Early Going
Tech took both of UVa’s - and Fate’s - best shots during the early going. The first came when Jimmy Kibble, whose sudden punting prowess has Tech fans giggling like school girls, bobbled a snap and had to run for his life and the first down. Kibble had already shown us his speed a week earlier, when he prevented a WVU kick returner from scoring. He demonstrated it again as he raced the UVa defenders to the first down pylon.
As he ran, I wasn’t really concerned about the first down. I was thinking, “Don’t get hurt! We don’t have any more punters!” Little did I know at that point that Shayne Graham wasn’t even going to play because of a strained back. Kibble managed to avoid a shoulder-separating collision, but he didn’t beat the Hoos to the marker.
The important part is, the refs thought he did. First down, Tech. Disaster averted.
The second dramatic moment came shortly thereafter, when UVa lined up on their ten yard line and handed off to Tiki Barber, who proceeded to bounce off a lineman and break free into the open field. It was a foot race, and Tiki usually wins those.
Not this time. This is a guy who’s gotten around the corner on Michigan and Florida State, two of college football’s most storied programs, and neither one of them had a player who could catch Tiki. But neither one of them had Torrian Gray. 80 yards after Barber had broken into the clear, Gray ran him down, hooked his shoulder pads, and pulled him to the turf. UVa would have to settle for a field goal, and the tone of the game was established for Tech’s defense: take your best shot, but you’re not getting into the end zone.
Tech's First TD
Druck got things rolling with a 33-yard rumble off the option. One of these days, people will learn that despite his lack of speed, Druck would rather run the ball, not pitch it. He is routinely not covered on the option, and he’s always tucking and running, plowing over some poor unsuspecting linebacker or defensive back. This time, he, uh, galloped untouched down the sideline.
The Hokies continued to drive down the field, ultimately fooling the Wahoos’ pressure defense with a screen pass that was a work of art and caught UVa totally off guard. Edmonds followed a convoy of three blockers into the end zone for an easy TD from 16 yards out. It was the first of many misdirections and fakes that would leave the field littered with Cavalier ... athletic supporters.
Here, Have Three More. And That's All.
Right before half time, Tech coughed up their only turnover of the game from an unlikely source, a fumble by Brian Edmonds. The Hoos converted the fumble into a field goal, giving them their last lead at 9-7, and they were done for the day.
Going into half time, a number of fans around me were feeling nervous, but I had the ultimate in confidence. So the Hokies hadn’t executed. So what? Tim Sherman had collapsed on the sidelines with a concussion after one of Virginia’s last drives, and there was no doubt that Sherman, who looked shaky, was not coming back. I anticipated that Virginia might not score again.
On the Hokies side of the ball, the offense was inconsistent, but I knew that by late third and early fourth quarter, Virginia would start to wear down. And besides, as we all know by now, Tech’s patented, second-half-opening, smash-mouth scoring drive was yet to come. I knew that once the Hokies took the lead, there would be no looking back. It’s been that way for two years now.
Ahead for Good
As expected, Tech scored on their first possession of the third quarter, although it was a more varied drive than what I anticipated. It ended when Druck (once again) drew in the UVa defenders with a pump-fake and flicked a TD pass over the middle into Michael Stuewe’s stomach. That made it 13-9 after Tech missed a two-point conversion.
That was the start of things, but the first true dagger to UVa’s heart would come soon thereafter. Faced with a fourth-and-one at Tech’s 22, George Welsh, even though he had absolutely nothing to lose (UVa’s bowl bid was already in hand), opted for the field goal. Rafael Garcia missed it, and three plays later, Druckenmiller dropped a 72-yard bomb into Cornelius White’s arms. Corney was downed at the 9, and on the next play, Marcus Parker scored a TD standing up, slicing through the vaunted UVa defense with ease.
Druck’s pass to Corney was a big one. Earlier in the game, Corney was open behind the Cavalier defense, and Druck missed him by a good five yards. Or a bad five yards, depending upon how you prefer to phrase it. Including two poor throws against WVU, that made three wide-open bombs that Druck had missed in two weeks. The 72-yarder to White was not picture-perfect, but it was good enough, and for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Somewhere in this time frame, James Farrior, one of UVa’s star linebackers, left with an injury, not to return. Although the UVa defense definitely lost steam after that, evidenced by the gaping holes that started to appear on Tech’s running plays, it’s likely that Tech would have piled on the points anyway. The Hokies, after giving up two early sacks, were stonewalling UVa’s senior-laden defensive line and linebacking corps.
Bang, Bang, Bang! Nailing the Coffin Shut
In the fourth quarter, Aaron Brooks, Sherman’s replacement, finally lofted the interception that Tech fans had been waiting all game for. Brandon Semones tracked Brooks down and hit him as he threw, and a rumbling-bumbling-stumbling Torrian Gray stayed upright long enough to pick it off.
Tech put the game away with their last TD after that, pulling an end-around out of the hat that hadn’t been seen all year. When Shawn Scales took the ball from Marcus Parker at about the 25 yard line, he had a convoy of five blockers waiting for him on the other side of the field. Once again, the Cavalier defense had overpursued, and once again, Ricky Bustle made them pay for it.
I won’t go on at length about how there is no more deserving guy on the Tech team to get that last touchdown than Shawn Scales. In a season in which Tech has received plenty of bad publicity, Scales has been the shining exception. So when he scored to put the game on ice, it was doubly sweet.
That made the score 26-9, and the two teams played out the string, winding the clock down. George Welsh’s words to Frank Beamer as they shook hands at midfield are forever captured on my tape of the game:
“You’re probably the best team we’ve played all year.”
When you’ve got George Welsh, a guy who won’t say positive things about his own team, gushing over your team like that, it’s a great day, indeed.
I stood in the stands for a while and watched the drunks attack the goal posts. It took them a while to get them down (because they’re building ‘em better these days), and once they were done, it was hysterical to watch the crowds carry them around. In case you’re wondering, the goal posts are about $3,000 apiece, and remarkably, they’re covered by insurance. With Tech’s track record, who would be dumb enough to insure the darn things?
As for me personally, I was pretty mellow. I expected a victory, and I got one. For the first time in nearly ten years, I wasn’t scared by Virginia, and as it turned out, I had no reason to be. They have some great parts (Tiki and the defense), but the sum of those parts is not as great as the sum of the Hokies’ parts, primarily because of the discrepancy between the two teams at the quarterback position.
Do you want to know what probably made me that happiest, or was at least a close second? “The Streak” is over at 39. UVa had picked off a pass in 39 straight games, which is an NCAA record and a remarkable achievement, but if anybody could break the streak, Druck was the man, and he did it. I wanted that almost as much as I wanted the win, but there was no way I was going to even mention it here. I learned after the Syracuse game to keep my mouth shut, and it’s working pretty well, so don’t look for me to make any predictions about the Alliance Bowl game.
Miscellaneous Game Notes
It’s hard to believe that three years ago, we were going bananas because we were playing in, and winning, the Independence Bowl. Now it’s 1996, and we’re headed to our second straight Alliance Bowl, rubbing elbows with the big boys of the college football world once again.
And to think, we all charged off to the Sugar Bowl last year amidst cries of, “We have to go! We may never play in another bowl like this one again!”
Thanks to the Big East’s new tiebreaker system, all of the drama has been taken out of it this year. We won’t have to endure days of teeth-gnashing as we try to figure out what’s going to happen. No sitting around, trying to figure out if we’re going to get screwed by a bowl not inviting us when we deserve the invitation.
Yes, sir, this year is different. We may not have won the conference outright, but we did win the bowl bid, fair and square. And you can bet that this year’s hats and T-shirts won’t say “Big East Co-Champs.” They’ll say simply, “Big East Champs.”
So settle in, Hokie fans, and enjoy the next week. Be sure to catch the SEC championship game this coming weekend, so you can get a good look at our next likely opponent. See you at the Alliance Bowl!