NEW ORLEANS — Virginia Tech senior wide receiver Danny Coale stood in the cramped locker room at the Superdome as Tuesday turned to Wednesday, still coming to grips with how the Hokies had lost to Michigan, 23-20, in the Sugar Bowl just minutes earlier.
Playing his final game in a Hokies uniform, Coale appeared to make a spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone on Virginia Tech’s first possession of overtime. The Pacific-12 Conference officiating crew originally ruled the play a touchdown. But following a review, the play was overturned because a replay official deemed Coale never had possession before the nose of the ball hit the ground.
“They had called it a touchdown on the field, so I thought it would’ve been hard to overturn,” Coale said. “But they saw some things and overturned it and it was in the ref’s hands. What can you do?”
The call forced the Hokies to attempt a 37-yard field goal, which place kicker Justin Myer pushed wide right. And so, after Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons made his 37-yard game-winning kick on the Wolverines’ ensuing possession, all the talk among Hokies fans has centered around the exact explanation for why the replay official decided to overturn the call on the field.
Turns out they’re not alone. The ACC’s head of officials, Doug Rhoads, said Wednesday night he contacted the Pac-12’s coordinator of officiating, Tony Corrente, on behalf of ACC Commissioner John Swofford and was told the replay official had one shot that showed indisputable video evidence that the ball was not controlled.
“In review of it, I did not see indisputable video evidence to the level to overturn that play,” Rhoads said. “I just don’t see it.”
A Pac-12 spokesman said Corrente spoke with the replay crew Wednesday and confirmed their ruling that “the player did not have complete control of the ball while in bounds.”
Virginia Tech dominated much of the game, doubling Michigan in yardage (377-188) and holding dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson to a career-low 13 yards rushing. But the Hokies scored just one touchdown despite moving the ball inside Michigan’s 20-yard line six times. Instead, they were forced to settle for four Myer field goals.
“I felt like we deserved it. We were the better team,” safety Antone Exum said. “We feel like we did everything that we could do. But we’ve had our adversity before in this program.”
But the spotlight on Coach Frank Beamer’s inability to win big games will shine even brighter in the coming weeks after he made several head-scratching moves.
With the Hokies leading 6-0 and dominating play in the second quarter, Beamer chose to go for it on fourth and one on the Wolverines 4-yard line instead of kicking a field goal. But quarterback Logan Thomas was stopped for no gain, and Michigan took over.
Then, with just more than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 17, Beamer gave Coale, who is also the team’s punter, the option to run the ball or kick it on fourth and one at the Michigan 48. But Coale lost seven yards on the carry, and the Wolverines needed just a 23-yard drive to retake the lead on Gibbons’s 39-yard field goal.
“If you could go back, I’d take a couple of decisions back,” said Beamer, who fell to 1-5 in BCS games and 8-11 in bowl games. “I think everybody in Virginia Tech football put a lot into this ballgame. . . . And we wanted to get a win for the ACC and wanted to get a win for Virginia Tech. We haven’t done as well as we want to in these BCS games.”
Whether the Hokies will get a third consecutive berth in a BCS bowl next year will largely depend on Thomas’s progress. In his first year as a starter, the redshirt sophomore broke Tyrod Taylor’s single-season program record for total offense.
Virginia Tech could need him more than ever next year, with four senior offensive linemen and the two most prolific receivers in school history (Coale and Jarrett Boykin) graduating.
In addition, ACC player of the year David Wilson is pondering an early jump to the NFL. Wilson, who has one year of eligibility remaining, said he will have an announcement about his decision shortly. Junior cornerback Jayron Hosley said after Tuesday’s game that he has already decided to declare for the NFL draft, but the Hokies’ defense likely will return nine starters from this year’s unit.