Virginia Tech freshman cornerback Ronyell Whitaker knelt to the turf at Mountaineer Field and planted a kiss on the 36-yard line. He would rather have planted it on three-time all-Big East place kicker Shayne Graham, but the senior was being carried off the field by his triumphant--and still undefeated--teammates.
After giving up what appeared to be the touchdown that would end the Hokies' run at a perfect season and a shot at their first national championship, Whitaker and the rest of the Virginia Tech defense watched as redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick, with no timeouts left and 1 minute 11 seconds on the clock, engineered a six-play, 58-yard drive to get his team into field goal range. Given the opportunity for the first game-winning field goal of his career, Graham hit the 44-yarder for a 22-20 win today.
"Some seasons it's like this," said Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, whose team is off to its first 8-0 start since 1905. "Things happen right and players make it happen right. We've got a football team that will battle you."
Perhaps as important to the Hokies' national title hopes as Graham's kick was the 24-23 loss of No. 2 Penn State to Minnesota today. The defeat gives the Hokies a chance to move into the No. 2 spot not only in the national polls, but also in the coveted Bowl Championship Series ratings as well. The top two teams in the BCS will meet in the Sugar Bowl at season's end to decide the national title.
For any of that to matter, Virginia Tech will have to get through the season undefeated. And with a game against No. 22 Miami Saturday in Blacksburg, Va., the Hokies will have to play better than they have the past two weeks. They'll have to play as well as they did the last 1:11 of this game.
"We executed that last drive like we've been running the two-minute drill all year," said Vick, who completed 14 of 30 passes for 255 yards and rushed for 50 more yards on nine carries. "Like I said last week, it shows the character of our team. We had to face adversity and we came back from that."
A six-yard touchdown run by Virginia Tech junior tailback Shyrone Stith with 6:09 to play gave the Hokies a 19-7 lead. But West Virginia's Richard Bryant returned the ensuing kickoff 13 yards, fumbled and teammate Boo Sensabaugh recovered and rushed for 44 more yards.
Mountaineers backup quarterback Brad Lewis, pressed into duty after Marc Bulger bruised his right thumb, pulled his team to 19-14 with a four-yard touchdown pass to flanker Jerry Porter. Virginia Tech got the ball back with just over three minutes to play, but Stith was hit by linebacker Barrett Green on the third play of the drive and fumbled on the Hokies 34-yard line. The ball was recovered by Sensabaugh.
Four plays later Lewis found wide receiver Khori Ivy on a slant pattern to the right corner of the end zone for the touchdown and a 20-19 lead. It was the first time this season Virginia Tech had trailed an opponent.
The raucous crowd of 56,906 at Mountaineer Field erupted, but that only energized Vick. "I live for moments like that," he said. "It's just in me, in my blood."
Working out of the shotgun formation with two wide receivers flanked to either side, Vick completed quick passes to Terrell Parham and Andre Davis that covered 13 and nine yards, respectively. He then rolled to his right, cut upfield and raced down the right sideline--hurdling a defender along the way--for a 26-yard gain.
"It looked like he was going out of bounds and all of the sudden he hit the jets," Beamer said. "It's amazing, amazing, how much ground he covered going down that sideline."
With first and 10 at the 36-yard line, Vick completed one more pass--a nine-yard throw to Ricky Hall--and then hustled to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball with :05 remaining. With that, he turned the game--and the Hokies' hopes of an undefeated season--over to Graham, and he delivered.
"I was just on the sidelines saying, 'Give me a chance, give me a chance,' " said Graham, the Big East's all-time leading scorer. "I don't want to say I was nervous, but I don't want to say I wasn't nervous. Because I've been in that situation before and lived it and knew what it felt like and I think that's what helped me out."
All-American defensive end Corey Moore, who picked up three of the Hokies' six sacks, said he was never worried.
"I never thought we were going to lose this game," Moore said. "I'll tell you what--Mike Vick is everything he's advertised to be . . . and Shayne Graham? If I had to bet my life on it, I'd have bet my life on Shayne Graham."