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No Happy Ending

Unsung Ballhawks From Kansas Stave Off Resilient Hokies, Who Stumble to 0-3 in BCS Games

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Virginia Tech wide receiver Justin Harper eludes a tackle by Kansas defensive back Kendrick Harper in the first quarter. The surprising Jayhawks finished 12-1.
Virginia Tech wide receiver Justin Harper eludes a tackle by Kansas defensive back Kendrick Harper in the first quarter. The surprising Jayhawks finished 12-1. (Photos By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Kansas safety Justin Thornton intercepts a Virginia Tech pass in the fourth quarter, essentially sealing the Jayhawks' Orange Bowl triumph, their first in a Bowl Championship Series game.
Kansas safety Justin Thornton intercepts a Virginia Tech pass in the fourth quarter, essentially sealing the Jayhawks' Orange Bowl triumph, their first in a Bowl Championship Series game. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Cornerback Victor Harris (1) and safety D.J. Parker (25) can't stop Jayhawks' Marcus Henry from making it into the end zone for a second-quarter score.
Cornerback Victor Harris (1) and safety D.J. Parker (25) can't stop Jayhawks' Marcus Henry from making it into the end zone for a second-quarter score. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 2008; Page E01

MIAMI, Jan. 3 -- For a few, fleeting moments Thursday night, it seemed the Orange Bowl would be the final feat of resiliency in a Virginia Tech football season defined by that quality. The Hokies had already begun their season cast as healers for a still-grieving campus and reprised it after a crushing loss. Now, they appeared poised to end it with the boldest comeback yet.

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But, no, that would be too simple. What about the group of unknowns from Kansas on the other sideline, the other team fit for a storybook? In its 24-21 loss in the Orange Bowl before 74,111 at Dolphin Stadium, No. 5 Virginia Tech rallied from a 17-point, first-half deficit but was ultimately unable to overcome No. 8 Kansas's initial onslaught or the three interceptions -- two by Sean Glennon, one by Tyrod Taylor -- that led to 17 Kansas points.

The Hokies and Coach Frank Beamer sank to 0-3 in Bowl Championship Series games, this Orange Bowl moving beside the 2000 and 2005 Sugar Bowls in team infamy. Kansas, whose place in the BCS was questioned because it lost to Missouri, a higher-ranked conference rival, validated its selection and, depending upon 11-1 Ohio State's result in Monday night's national championship game, could finish the season with the best record among the 65 teams from BCS conferences.

But the Hokies (11-3) had their chances. Virginia Tech trimmed a 17-0 Kansas lead to 17-14 and then cut a 24-14 advantage to three when Glennon beamed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Justin Harper with three minutes remaining. But when Jud Dunlevy's onside kick nestled into Raymond Pendleton's arms, it became clear this feel-good season would not end that way, and the senior class with the most wins in Tech history would lose its final game, the team's fourth bowl loss in five years.

"I thought we were going to do it," Beamer said. "I mean, we had it."

Tech's quarterback play conjured nightmares from last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl, when Glennon committed four turnovers in a second-half collapse. Thursday's errors came less suddenly but were every bit as destructive, negating Justin Harper's memorable 84-yard touchdown after a lateral on a punt return and Branden Ore's 116 yards and touchdown in three quarters.

Two of the interceptions were most costly. With 11 minutes 56 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech embarked on a drive from the 9-yard line. On third and eight, Glennon dropped back, near his own end zone, and threw down the middle of the field to Harper on a post pattern, into double coverage. Safety Justin Thornton swooped and intercepted the pass, then raced to the 2-yard line. Quarterback Todd Reesing dived into the end zone on the next play, giving Kansas a 24-14 lead with 10:57 left, enough cushion to salt away the game.

Kansas took its lead by capitalizing on quarterback mistakes. After replacing Glennon on the third play of Tech's second possession, Taylor took one step back and threw toward Harper, who was running an out pattern to the left sideline. Taylor made two mistakes on the throw. First, he stared at Harper from the moment the ball was snapped. Second, and more damning, he threw in the general vicinity of Aqib Talib, among the best cornerbacks in the nation.

Harper slipped, but it would not have mattered. Talib darted in front of Harper, snared the pass and bolted 60 yards down the sideline. No one had a chance to catch him; by the time he reached the 10-yard line, Talib started high-stepping and shaking the ball in front of him. Kansas's vaunted offense had inflicted minimal damage, yet the Jayhawks took a sudden 7-0 lead.

Kansas sacked Virginia Tech four times in the first quarter, two each for Taylor and Glennon. Kansas's defense particularly vexed Taylor, who was sacked on his first two snaps for a combined loss of 19 yards.

Kansas's defense, overshadowed for much of the year by its offense, terrorized Tech's quarterbacks all game. The Jayhawks sacked Tech quarterbacks six times and held Taylor and Glennon to a combined 14 of 31 for 171 yards.

Still, the Hokies had four opportunities to tie the game or take the lead, the first of which stung most. After moving the ball 74 yards in six plays, their momentum peaked. Virginia Tech faced fourth down on the 8-yard line, about one foot away from a first down. Beamer considered going for it, "but we had the momentum," he said. "Let's get it tied up, and let's take it from there."


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