By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 10:00 PM
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. - That No. 14 Virginia Tech won the ACC's Coastal Division, just 70 days after becoming the second ranked team to ever lose to a division I-AA opponent, is illogical enough.
That the Hokies accomplished the feat with a 31-17 win at No. 23 Miami on Saturday despite giving up 464 yards of offense and falling behind for the seventh time in 11 games this season simply defies logic.
Then again, nothing about these Hokies and their nine-game winning streak since that devastating loss to James Madison has been conventional.
"I think there's something special about this group," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "It's really a neat feeling to be the head coach of a crowd like this."
With the victory, the Hokies clinched the ACC's Coastal Division title and will face Florida State, Maryland or North Carolina State in the conference's championship game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte, with a trip to the Orange Bowl on the line.
In what has become a defining characteristic for these Hokies, though, they would use all kinds of resiliency and luck to earn that opportunity.
Virginia Tech didn't take the lead for good until early in the fourth quarter, when running back Ryan Williams broke off an 84-yard touchdown run, the longest by a Virginia Tech player since it joined the ACC six years ago.
On the ensuing drive, Miami wide receiver Travis Benjamin broke free of the Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller for what would have been a 64-yard touchdown, only the pass from quarterback Stephen Morris (15 of 133 for 202 yards) grazed off his fingertips and bounced to the ground.
From there the Hurricanes unraveled, throwing three interceptions - part of a six-turnover day - and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor capped an otherwise pedestrian day for him with an 18-yard scoring run that gave him more rushing touchdowns than any quarterback in program history.
"It makes me mad," Taylor said when asked about the Hokies' two losses to begin this season. "I thought those were games we could have won. Looking back on it now, it hurts to know that we lost those two games. But I think we learned a lot and grew a lot from it."
As has been its habit almost the entire season, though, an inauspicious start greeted Virginia Tech once it took to the Sun Life Stadium field.
Before the first quarter was complete, Virginia Tech watched starting cornerback Rashad Carmichael limp to the bench with an injured ankle, emerging wide receiver Marcus Davis leave the game after being temporarily knocked unconscious and Taylor laying on the ground in pain and forced to the sideline for a play.
The Hokies trailed the Hurricanes, 7-0, less than four minutes into the game when Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson caught a nine-yard touchdown reception, a catch that put him ahead of Michael Irvin as the school's all-time leader for touchdown catches.
But the Hokies responded with a defining drive as the first quarter came to a close. Virginia Tech withstood some gruesome hits by Miami's defense - on consecutive snaps, Davis left the game with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet shot and Taylor was forced to the sideline for a play following a big hit from Hurricanes linebacker Colin McCarthy - but drove down the field on a 12-play, 88-yard drive that Williams finished off with a 14-yard touchdown run.
With Taylor on the bench for one play, backup Logan Thomas kept the drive alive when he entered the game and completed a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Danny Coale on third and long. The two teams then traded field goals - Hokies place kicker Chris Hazley nailed his school-record 18th consecutive field goal from 49 yards - and Virginia Tech entered halftime tied at 10 despite being gashed by Miami's running game.
Virginia Tech broke the second-half stalemate midway through the third quarter when Taylor hit a wide-open Coale for a 43-yard touchdown pass. It was the Hokies' first lead of the game, but Miami running back Lamar Miller ensured it wouldn't stand up for long
Miller (164 yards) accounted for all 62 yards on the Hurricanes' ensuing touchdown drive, including a 47-yard gain, to tie the score at 17. That, though, would be the last Miami score of the game, even though it gained 262 total yards on the ground.
Turnovers ultimately did in any chance the Hurricanes had of beating the Hokies - they had three fumbles and three interceptions for the game - and gave Virginia Tech an unlikely division title.
It was a muted celebration, though. There was no Gatorade bath for Beamer. There was no chanting in the middle of the field. About the only thing resembling jubilation were players slapping hands with the contingent of Virginia Tech fans still remaining in the half-empty stadium.
Though many thought the Hokies' season was finished when they lost two games in five days to begin this season, it seems Virginia Tech's players were the only ones who expected such a dramatic turnaround to be the end result.
"It wasn't unconventional at all; we knew we had the talent, we knew the capabilities we had," senior defensive back Davon Morgan said. "No excuses, we lost those two games. But us seniors made a commitment to each other that we weren't going down that road no more. We just stayed together as a team."