NEW ORLEANS — There was a moment Tuesday night when it looked like Virginia Tech had finally gotten over its propensity for finding new ways to lose in big games. But after overcoming an uncharacteristic special teams gaffe by Coach Frank Beamer that almost cost them the game in regulation, the Hokies saw another bowl game slip through their grasp.
The No. 17 Hokies fell to No. 13 Michigan, 23-20, in overtime at the 2012 Sugar Bowl after Wolverines place kicker Brendan Gibbons nailed a 37-yard field goal. Virginia Tech senior Justin Myer, who two weeks ago was the team’s third-string place kicker, missed wide right on a 37-yard attempt on the Hokies’ lone overtime possession prior to Gibbons’s attempt.
One play before Myer’s miss, wide receiver Danny Coale made what appeared to be a spectacular one-handed, 20-yard touchdown catch but officials overturned the call after review because Coale never had possession of the ball. The Hokies didn’t necessarily agree with the ruling.
“They had called it a touchdown on the field so I thought it would’ve been hard to overturn,” Coale said of the play. “But they saw some things and overturned it and it was in the ref’s hands. What can you do?”
Added running back David Wilson, who was the closest player to Coale in the end zone: “Football is a game of inches and Danny Coale was inches away from that definitely being a touchdown, even though the whole Hokie nation might’ve thought it was a touchdown.”
The end of regulation had its own controversy, and it also involved Coale.
With the score tied at 17 and seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Beamer called a timeout and shocked everyone in the Superdome, including his own fans: He gave Coale the option to punt the ball or run it on fourth down. The plan backfired when Coale found himself swarmed by Michigan defenders.
The Episcopal High graduate took the blame afterwards saying he should have punted the ball when he saw defenders charging towards him. But as a result of Beamer’s decision, Michigan (11-2) needed to gain just 23 yards to set up Gibbons for a 39-yard field goal that gave the Wolverines a 20-17 lead with four minutes remaining in regulation.
But then Virginia Tech (11-3) showed the sort of resiliency that had evaded it in the past during these sorts of moments. Quarterback Logan Thomas led an 11-play, 83-yard drive, and Myer hit a 25-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
Thomas finished 19 of 28 for 214 yards and added 53 yards and a touchdown on the ground to surpass Tyrod Taylor’s school record for total offense in a single season. Wolverines senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway, who caught two touchdown passes, was named the game’s MVP.
The loss was particularly devastating considering the Hokies faced a wave of criticism about being selected to the Sugar Bowl, as many felt there were more worthy teams. Sugar Bowl officials said they selected Virginia Tech because of how well its fan base travels to bowl games, but there were large swaths of empty seats in Superdome’s upper deck Tuesday and the announced attendance was 64,512, nearly 12,000 short of capacity.
Even worse, Virginia Tech outgained the Wolverines by nearly 200 yards and held Michigan’s dynamic quarterback, Denard Robinson, to a career-low 13 yards rushing.
Beamer is now 1-5 all-time in BCS games. But this one will likely cause him headaches for quite some time.
“I’m about half sick right now,” Beamer said afterwards. “But I’m proud as can be of our players. I’m proud of how we battled back. ”
The Hokies struck first to start the game when Myer connected on a 37-yard field goal after a three-and-out by the Wolverines, but it could have been an even better start. Virginia Tech had first and goal at the Michigan 4-yard line, but Wilson (82 yards on 24 carries), who broke Ryan Williams’s school record for rushing yards in a single season on Tuesday, was tackled for a 22-yard loss as he tried to reverse field.
This would become a trend as the half wore on.
Though Thomas started the game 7 of 10 passing for 101 yards as Michigan’s defense focused on stopping Wilson, the Hokies again saw a lengthy drive stall. But Myer, who was only kicking because starter Cody Journell was arrested on felony breaking-and-entering charges last month and back-up Tyler Weiss was sent home from New Orleans for breaking curfew, connected on another field goal, this time from 43 yards out to give Virginia Tech a 6-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
“It didn’t come down to a field goal,” Coale said. “There were so many plays in that game. We should have capitalized on some points early on. [Myer] gave us points with those field goals when we should’ve had touchdowns. He played a helluva game stepping in there and nailing those field goals. It shouldn’t have been a field goal game.”
But with seven minutes remaining in the first half, after outgaining Michigan 188-39, the Hokies lost control in one of the more bizarre endings to a half ever.
With Virginia Tech facing fourth and one at the Michigan 4-yard line, Beamer decided to go for it rather than have Myer kick another field goal. Thomas, however, came up inches short on a quarterback sneak, giving the Wolverines possession.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit held strong, forcing a Michigan punt. But safety James Hopper was called for roughing the kicker, giving Robinson new life. And on third and 17 with less than a minute remaining before halftime, he made the Hokies pay.
Robinson evaded a sack by Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, and threw a laser toward Hemingway. Hokies safety Eddie Whitley whiffed trying to make an interception and Hemingway was able to jog into the end zone for a 45-yard score that gave Michigan a 7-6 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Virginia Tech running back Tony Gregory fumbled and the Wolverines recovered the ball at the Hokies 26-yard-line with 38 seconds remaining. Again, Virginia Tech’s defense held.
This time, Michigan attempted a fake field goal and holder Drew Dileo’s pass sailed directly towards the hands of Fuller and linebacker Alonzo Tweedy. Except the ball bounced off their hands and fell into the waiting arms of Wolverines long snapper Jareth Glanda.
The Hokies collected themselves in time to hold Michigan to a 24-yard field goal by Gibbons, but after dominating most of the first half, they entered halftime down 10-6.
The start of the second half didn’t go much better. After a three and out by Virginia Tech’s offense, cornerback Jayron Hosley looked to have an interception on two different plays.
First, he appeared to make a diving catch on a Robinson throw, but after a review officials overruled the play and called it an incomplete pass. On Michigan’s next series, following an interception by Thomas, Hosley battled with a Wolverines receiver and came down with another interception. This time, however, he was called for pass interference.
Two plays later, Hemingway outjumped safety Antone Exum for an 18-yard touchdown catch, his second of the night, and the Wolverines took a 17-6 lead.
After the game Hosley said he would enter the NFL draft.
The Hokies would not back down in this spotlight game. After Myer responded with a 36-yard field goal to make the score 17-9, the Virginia Tech’s defense forced a three-and-out and Thomas went to work.
On the Hokies’ ensuing drive he scrambled for a first down twice — once on a third and 12 and later on a fourth-and-11 conversion. Then, after Michigan cornerback Blake Countess was called for pass interference in the end zone covering Virginia Tech’s Marcus Davis on third and goal, Thomas fell forward into the end zone to make the score 17-15.
The Hokies chose to go for a two-point conversion, and when Thomas found Davis in the back of the end zone, the score was tied at 17 with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter as the contingent of Virginia Tech fans in attendance chanted “Let’s go Hokies” for the first time all half.
Little did they know at the time, their team would soon fall just inches short once again.
“Danny’s play is so close, and it seemed like there was just quite a few of those there tonight,” Beamer said. “So close but just didn’t quite have it go our way.” Beamer said.
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Box Score: Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT)