What began as one of the most special afternoons in Virginia Tech football history turned into an evening Hokies fans will remember for a long time.
With ESPN making this town the centerpiece of its college football coverage for the first time today, the Hokies more than justified the attention that has become commonplace in locales such as Tallahassee and Ann Arbor, Mich. Ranked fourth in the nation, and trying to legitimize their unprecedented presence in the national championship picture, they crushed No. 16 Syracuse, 62-0, before 53,130 at Lane Stadium.
It was Virginia Tech's largest margin of victory since a 73-0 win over Catholic in 1922. It was Syracuse's worst loss since a 62-0 drubbing at Princeton in 1912. It also was the second-largest margin of victory over an Associated Press-ranked team and the biggest shutout of an AP-ranked team ever.
The celebration, which in part started seven hours before the game when about 14,000 showed up for the live broadcast of ESPN's "College GameDay" just inside the gates of Lane Stadium, built to a crescendo by halftime. By the end of the third quarter, Virginia Tech's starters were leading the cheers from the sideline.
In the biggest game played at Lane Stadium--even the crystal national championship trophy was on the sidelines--Virginia Tech (6-0, 2-0 Big East) improved to its best start since 1967 and ended its two-year homecoming jinx.
The Hokies entered homecoming unbeaten in 1997 and 1998, but were upset two years ago by Miami (Ohio) and last year by Temple.
Syracuse (5-2, 2-1) stuck to its quarterback rotation of Madei Williams and Troy Nunes. But neither was effective against a defense allowing eight points per game.
"I'm sold on our team," Hokies senior flanker Ricky Hall said.
"We can go out there and play with anybody in the country, and I hope our performance tonight showed that."
Hokies redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick, who is already being touted by teammates as a future Heisman Trophy contender, completed 8 of 16 pass attempts for 135 yards and one touchdown. But his performance was more impressive than his numbers indicate.
The Hokies' were held to 152 yards last season by the Orangemen, but tonight they had totaled 31 points by halftime and 390 yards by the end of three quarters, when Vick and the rest of the starters were replaced by reserves. Shyrone Stith rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
"He should be in the [Heisman] race," senior all-American defensive end Corey Moore said of Vick. "Let's start a campaign.
"I think he's as good, as exciting, as anyone in college football."
Not to be outdone by the offense, Virginia Tech's defense scored two touchdowns tonight.
The defense put the first points on the board when cornerback Anthony Midget knocked the ball loose from Syracuse wide receiver Quinton Spotwood after a six-yard completion from Nunes. The ball took one bounce in the direction of rover Cory Bird, who scooped it up and returned it 26 yards down the left sideline for his first career touchdown.
Free safety Nick Sorensen also added his first interception of the season--which led to a field goal by Shayne Graham--and reserve rover Phillip Summers intercepted Williams late in the fourth quarter and returned it 43 yards for a score.
The Hokies, who held Nunes and Williams to a combined 6-of-22 passing for 43 yards, have four defensive scores this season and 38 in Coach Frank Beamer's 12-year tenure.
"There's no question they are a great football team," Syracuse offensive lineman Mark Baniewicz said. "We're a real good team and look what they did to us."
The Hokies' Tee Butler, a reserve linebacker, recovered one fumbled snap by Syracuse punter Mike Shafer in the end zone for a touchdown. Another fumble by Shafer, in the second quarter, led to another field goal.
The special teams also caused and recovered a fumble on a kickoff return by cornerback Will Allen, which negated his 62-yard effort.
"I believe this is a special night in Blacksburg," Beamer said.
"We played a great football team real well, and we did it with a little bit of everything, which is nice.
"That's what your objective is when you start a season--to be balanced. We definitely were tonight."