The 2000 Nokia Sugar Bowl:
Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 1/4/00
The Superdome, New Orleans, LA - January 4, 2000
1 2 3 4 F
FSU-Dugans 63 pass from Weinke (Janikowski kick)
VT-FG Graham 23
FSU-Dugans 14 pass from Weinke (P Warrick reception for two-point conversion)
RUSHING: Virginia Tech-Vick 23-97, Kendrick 12-69, Stith 11-68, Andre Davis 1-16, Johnson 1-12, Sorensen 1-7, Ferguson 1-5, C Hawkins 1-4, Graham 1-0. Florida St-Chaney 4-43, T Minor 9-35, Team 3-minus 7, Weinke 7-minus 41.
PASSING: Virginia Tech-Vick 15-29-0-225. Florida St-Weinke 20-34-1-329.
RECEIVING: Virginia Tech-And Davis 7-108, C Hawkins 2-49, Kendrick 2-27, Johnson 1-23, Wynn 1-7, Ferguson 1-6, Carter 1-5. Florida St-P Warrick 6-163, Dugans 5-99, M Minnis 2-25, T Minor 2-23, Morgan 2-10, Chaney 2-5, A Boldin 1-4.
As I left the Superdome and began the long walk back to the bus that would take me to the airport and back to Roanoke, I couldnít shake a feeling that if I lived to be 85 years old, and five more decades of Hokie football came and went for me, that this loss would haunt me forever.
Nearly 24 hours have come and gone since that moment, and my feelings have changed, but the regret of having lost still lingers. Itís impossible not to be proud of the team and the show they put on. Itís impossible not to admire the heart and resiliency they showed, up until the fateful fourth quarter that proved to be their demise.
But itís equally impossible not to ponder the what-ifs, the moments that sealed Techís fate. What if Tech had scored on their first drive, instead of fumbling? What if the punt hadnít been blocked for a touchdown? What if Peter Warrick hadnít returned that punt for a touchdown? What if Florida State hadnít picked up that fourth-and-one early in the fourth quarter?
What if the Hokies were national champions? What if, indeed?
Until the Hokies lost, I never knew how badly I wanted them to win. After all, win or lose, all the things we Hokie fans had wanted for years were finally ours: the national spotlight, a breakthrough season, a media-friendly phenom of a quarterback, and the respect of all who watched the Hokies play this season. These things were all ours, unless the Hokies showed up in New Orleans and hopelessly tanked the game. In many ways, even if the championship game had never been played, this team had accomplished great things that couldnít be undone.
But now that they have lost, that regret unexpectedly lingers.
Why is this? Is it the way they lost, beaten at their own game, downed by great special teams play and a steady diet of big plays by the opposing team? Is it the way they teased us with an incredible 22-point comeback before finally running out of gas? Why canít I simply say "Wow!" and move on?
Iím sure that time, instead of causing this game to haunt me, will help me put it in its proper place. Distance will make us all appreciate the performance put on by Michael Vick, an exhibition of quarterbacking that was completely different in character than that of Jim Druckenmiller in the 1996 Orange Bowl, but no less awe-inspiring. Thrust onto the national stage and hyped unceasingly, Vick didnít fail to impress, and even outdid himself. Thank God for VCRís, because to explain to people what he did without being able to show them the tape would be impossible.
And certainly, being there and witnessing the spectacle and emotion of a championship game first hand is an experience to be treasured. Only the passage of time will help us all appreciate that.
But for now, the loss burns.
The First Quarter
The Hokies had the ball first and blew downfield on their first possession, moving smartly inside the FSU ten yard line. The Noles were reeling, but they got an important second-and-short tackle behind the line, and then they stopped the Hokies short of the first down marker on third down.
Beamer passed up the short field goal and opted to go for it on fourth down instead, and the result was a Michael Vick fumble into the end zone that Andre Kendrick narrowly missed covering. FSU got it instead, and although the Hokies had held the ball for five minutes, they came up dry. Still, the success that Tech had on their first drive served notice that they would not be intimidated, and that indeed, they would at least be able to run the ball well.
Brave words, those, but FSU would come back strong. Not at first Ė the Noles pulled a three-and-out on their first possession, and then had to weather another relatively strong Tech drive that was killed by a Hokie penalty Ė but later in the first quarter. The Hokies appeared to be in control in the early going, but then FSUís Chris Weinke hit Peter Warrick with a perfectly-thrown ball behind the Tech defense. It was good for a 64-yard touchdown, and with 3:22 to go in the quarter, Tech trailed, despite controlling most of the quarter.
But it would only get worse. Tech came a bit unglued after that, and a premature snap in the shotgun formation hit Vick in the shoulder. The Hokie QB was able to cover the ball, but it was deep in Tech territory, and the resulting punt a few plays later was blocked by FSU for a TD. How ironic Ė the Hokies were undone by their own specialty, the blocked punt.
It was 14-0, Florida State, but the Hokies roared back with a big play of their own. Early in their next drive, Vick underthrew a wide-open Andre Davis, and as ABC commentators Brent Musberger and Gary Danielson wondered if Vick was hurt and if the Hokies were losing focus, Vick finally did hit Davis with a pass, a 49-yarder for a TD that pulled the Hokies within a score at 14-7. It was a much needed booster shot for the Hokies, who had had no scoring success on a couple of good drives, but had finally hit the big play.
Then the first quarter ended. Wow, had all that happened in just one quarter?
The Second Quarter
The Noles wasted no time slapping the Hokies with another big play. A mere 1:45 after the Hokies had tried to get up off the carpet with a long TD, FSU hit another one, this one a 63-yarder to Ron Dugans. Dugans wasnít exactly wide-open on the play, but as he caught the ball, three Hokies in the vicinity wiped each other out, and Dugans had another 50 yards of space to run, smile, and wave to the crowd on his way to the end zone. 21-7, FSU.
The game continued to deteriorate for the misfiring Hokies. On Techís next drive, an offensive interference penalty (called on Andre Davis, who thought Vick was going to run and was blocking the FSU defensive back when the pass came their way) backed the Hokies up. Later, on third and long, Vick escaped the rush and had Derek Carter wide open near the 50 but badly overthrew him. It seemed that the Hokies, who had gotten off to a good start, could suddenly do no right.
But wait, it gets worse.
On the ensuing punt, Jimmy Kibble one-hopped it, and it bounced cleanly off the carpet and into Warrickís hands. Warrick did an eerie impersonation of Bryan Stillís 1995 Sugar Bowl punt return, breaking through a huge hole and racing untouched for the TD. The return was good for 59 yards, and the Noles were officially crushing the Hokies at their own game, special teams.
At this point, the gloomy specter of a blowout loomed. Florida State had scored an incredible four touchdowns in six minutes and forty-four seconds. The Hokies were reeling, and only the most optimistic Tech fan didnít have visions of a 52-7 or 59-7 final score.
And then the game, which had gotten horribly out of whack, settled down. The Hokies began the long climb back.
It seemed an impossible task to come back from the 28-7 deficit, but at least the Hokies had time on their hands. It was early in the second quarter, and the maroon got down to work. Incredibly, the Seminoles would not score again for nearly twenty-nine minutes, and in that time, the Hokies would not only close the gap, but would take the lead.
The comeback started quietly enough. Andre Kendrick returned a kickoff 63 yards to FSUís 37-yard line, but the Hokies squandered the opportunity, ultimately foregoing a 51-yard field goal attempt by Graham for a fake instead. It was a fourth and seven, and the Hokies tried a pitch to Graham, who dropped it, and the Seminoles took over possession.
As Bobby Bowden did an interview with the ABC sideline reporter, the Noles went for the kill, completing a flea-flicker to the Tech 30. Florida State looked they were on cruise control.
Then the Tech defense made its case. Two straight sacks later, the Hokies had stopped the bleeding, and there was hope.
After a Tech three-and-out, ABC ran an incredible statistic: at that point, the Hokies led the time of possession battle 18:01 to 5:50, proving that sometimes, time of possession is the most worthless football statistic in existence.
Finally, the Hokies broke through. On their last possesion of the first half, the Hokies, behind an incredible 43-yard scramble by Vick, scored easily with 37 seconds left to go in the half. Momentum had at last been turned, and it was 28-14, FSU.
The Third Quarter
This quarter featured a 15-point outburst by the Hokies that saw them take a 29-28 lead and send the Superdome Ė and the nationís TV watchers Ė into a frenzy. It was Florida Stateís turn to come unglued, and they could produce nothing on offense, while the Hokies prospered. Hidden in the back-and-forth of the game was much drama and intrigue:
Whoa, time to take a breath.
At this point, the Noles were done. They were through. They werenít coming back. Right? The Hokies had done this before, and every team they had done it to had folded. As the third quarter drew to a close with the Hokies leading, the only task left for the Hokies was to post a couple of quick TDís from the defense and/or special teams. The Hokies were just fifteen minutes away from oh, say, a 43-28 finish and their first national championship.
Sigh. A man can dream, canít he? All together now: not so fast, my friend.
The Fourth Quarter
What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? Weíre talking about two teams that are used to whipping their opposition in the fourth quarter. Something had to give here. Unfortunately, it was the Hokies.
This quarter was fifteen minutes long, just like all the others. But it really came down to two plays:
In their first drive of the quarter, facing a fourth and one, the Seminoles ran a pitchout. Outside linebacker Jamel Smith knifed inside in anticipation of the quarterback sneak or off-tackle run, only to watch FSUís Travis Minor run outside of him, untouched. Minor picked up 16 yards, and Jamel, frustrated, threw him down out of bounds, adding another 15 yards to the pickup. It was a critical play for the Noles, who broke a long string of futility with a TD and went up 36-29.
On the following drive, the Hokies got right back down to business, finding good running room, but Vick fumbled on the second play, deep in Tech territory. The Hokies were able to keep the Noles out of the end zone, but FSU kicked a field goal to go up 39-29.
There were 10 minutes and 26 seconds to go, but with the two-score lead, the Seminoles could pin their ears back and batter Vick, and thatís just what they did. The remainder of the game was an endurance contest for Vick, who was forced to throw but had no time to do so. The Hokiesí run-blocking had been great, but their pass-blocking was almost non-existent. When they were forced to go to the passing game, Tech didnít have much of a chance. The Seminoles would tack on one more TD Ė a long pass to Warrick Ė and the final was FSU 46, VT 29.
Now You Know What it Feels Like. As a Tech fan, nothing grinds my axe more than a fallen foe saying, "Yeah, if we hadnít given up that fumble return for a TD, and you hadnít blocked that punt, and we hadnít turned the ball over five times Ö we would have beaten you" (substitute any Tech opponent here Ė they all say it).
Now I know why they say it. Take the big plays out of this game, and the Hokies are in it, and perhaps winning it. You donít even have to take the long touchdown passes (all three of them) out of it, just the blocked punt and the punt return.
Do that, and youíve got a game that is pretty much even-up. That kind of rationalizing is a hard game not to play if youíre a Hokie fan. But itís also not a valid game. FSU is good. JMU doesnít make those plays against Tech. As a matter of fact, almost nobody does, but FSU did.
Stats Games. Having trouble sleeping since the Hokies lost the championship? These stats are sure to keep you awake until the wee hours of the morning right up until the Spring Game, because they paint a picture of a Tech team that seemingly should have won the ball game:
Missed Opportunities. The Hokies missed so many opportunities that itís hard to remember all of them, but there were definitely many points that went by the wayside instead:
By contrast, the Seminoles made very few mistakes and missed very few opportunities.
Vick Shines. Well, one thingís for sure Ė all the doubters about Michael Vick are now silenced. You will no longer hear someone comment about how he has built his reputation against JMU, UAB, Rutgers, and Temple. Many observers felt Vick would fold under the pressure of a national championship game combined with the FSU defense.
Certainly, Vick played far from a perfect game. He threw behind receivers, he missed open receivers (a bomb to Davis and a critical third-down to Carter), and he fumbled twice, but he made some incredible plays and most importantly, he never wilted.
Compare his performance to that of Alabamaís Andrew Zow in the 1998 Music City Bowl. Zow, who was a freshman last year, cracked under Techís pressure and threw three interceptions. Vick didnít throw a single interception against FSU and acquitted himself quite well.
Vick blew the minds of all who watched the game. Peter Warrick was the MVP of the bowl, but Vick made more highlight-film plays.
One day, Michael Vick will play in an important bowl game again, and he will make amazing plays with his feet, much like he did against FSU. But he will also make all the passes he missed, and he wonít fumble the ball. He will play a complete game, and itíll be incredible to watch, even more incredible than this game was, if you can believe that. It may or may not be for the national championship, but either way, itíll be a sight to see.
Beamerís Aggressiveness. Iíve always liked Frank Beamerís aggressive coaching style, and he threw everything he had at Florida State in this one. Many observers think he went too far, but itís easy to question a coach when he loses. Here are at least some of the gambles that Beamer took:
The odd thing is, none of the gambles worked. None of them. Passing up the field goal and going for two-pointers cost the Hokies 5 points. Those points may or may not have made a difference.
But I donít question aggressive calls. They can be costly if they donít work, but I like the message they send to the team. When a coach "goes for it," heís telling his team that he believes in them to make the plays.
Hokie Proud. I felt going into this game that the Hokies had two missions to accomplish:
Only one of those missions was accomplished, #1, but in the end, it is nearly as valuable as #2.
All month long, Hokie fans told me that the worst thing that could happen to Tech would be to get blown out, and for a while, it looked as if that might happen. But when Michael Vick put it into overdrive and the Hokies stormed back to take the lead heading into the fourth quarter, a nation was convinced that the Hokies were indeed worthy of teeing it up in the national championship game.
As the post game comments and fan reaction start to trickle in, there is no scorn, and there is no questioning of the Hokiesí credentials. There are only heads shaking in amazement at the recollection of the things Michael Vick did, and respectful comments about the comeback that the Hokies made.
Sure, I would rather have won, but as I made it home and took my first look at the post-game message board, I was pleasantly surprised at the positive mindset of the fans who gathered there. Down to the last Hokie fan, they are all proud, and hopeful for the future.
And they should be. I will let the proud comments of the message board posters stand for themselves, and all I will say is that I agree whole-heartedly with them. This has been a very special season, and it ended well, even though it ended in a loss.
There is no turning back now. In the small space of just four months, the face of Hokie football has changed forever. Most of the time, weíll think itís for the better, and sometimes weíll think itís for the worse, but we will always look back on this season with pride.
Next Up: the Lunch Pail Lives
Itís hard to believe that the season is over, but it is. The coaches will now hit the recruiting trail hard leading up to the early February signing date, but the players will get a break for a while.
For some of them, the break is permanent. Theyíre done as Tech football players, having fulfilled their eligibility. We have gotten so used to seeing Corey Moore, Jamel Smith, Michael Hawkes, and a slew of other seniors (theyíre too numerous to mention here) put on the uniform that itís hard to believe they wonít be back.
The program rolls on, though. The coaches will absorb the lessons they learned from this valuable national championship game appearance, and they will use those lessons to prepare for another run. That run may come next year, or three years from now, or five, or ten, but I think it will happen again.
Three years ago, someone close to the football program told me a story of walking off the practice field with a Tech player, I think it was Matt Lehr or Dave Kadela, and the player told this person, "I came to Virginia Tech to win the national championship."
At the time, I have to admit that I thought that statement was a little naÔve. That dream was little more than a pipe dream back then, in the pre-Michael Vick days, but this season has taught everyone associated with the Tech program that the dream is indeed real. And the Hokies have gotten close enough to see it at short range. And man, it looks good.
One of my favorite sports theories is what I call "progression of achievement." I think that in order to achieve at the highest level in sports, a team often has to work its way up to that level, one step at a time. Sure, there are exceptions Ė the 1985 Villanova Wildcats basketball team won a championship without ever having gotten close to it Ė but for the most part, teams that win championships work their way up to them gradually.
This season was vitally important as a learning process. The next time the Hokies are poised to make a run like this, theyíll be more familiar with the territory, and theyíll make fewer missteps along the way. And fewer missteps eventually adds up to achieving the goal that youíre shooting for.
In the coming weeks, weíll sit back and ponder this season and what it means for Virginia Tech football. I think in a lot of ways, weíre too close to it to do that now. For the football program, the focus will shift to recruiting, and elsewhere, menís and womenís basketball will take center stage.
But one day, just a couple of months from now, Spring practice will begin, and the Hokies will pick up the lunch pail and get back to work. They wonít be the same team they were a year ago. They wonít even be the same team they were just a few short months ago. But even though their expectations and their fansí expectations will be different, they will continue to do what they have always done: work hard and shoot for the top.