The goal posts already were beginning to bow toward the ground under the relentless tug of a group of students, and the fans already had rushed the field to hoot and holler and celebrate Virginia Tech's 38-14 win over Boston College, a victory that staked the Hokies to an 11-0 record and the best season in school history. But suddenly, the giant scoreboard at the south end of Lane Stadium began flashing the score of a game being played 1,600 miles away, and this afternoon's wild celebration came to a surreal standstill.
Over 50,000 fans, more than 70 Virginia Tech players and one very wound-up head coach turned and stared as the digital display slowly spit out details of the final minute of regulation of Nebraska's game against Colorado, a game that would affect the Hokies' chances of grabbing the school's first-ever national championship berth. Finally, the public address announcer broke into the tension and revealed that Nebraska's game was going into overtime, releasing a ground-rattling cheer that reignited the carnival atmosphere.
The Cornhuskers eventually won, 33-30, but because they struggled, the complicated mathematical formula that determines the participants in college football's national championship game likely will spit out the Hokies, who are No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series ratings, as the opponent of No. 1 Florida State in January's Sugar Bowl. Nebraska, which had been hacking away at Virginia Tech's lead over the past few weeks, likely will remain at No. 3, although the final rankings will not come out until Dec. 5.
"I want to know how many of you I'm going to see in New Orleans!" Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer yelled over a microphone from a makeshift platform that had been built in the middle of the field. The crowd basically engulfed him after that, muffling whatever else he wanted to say as his players hugged their families and friends and dodged the sugar cubes that were tossed from the stands.
"We've blown everyone out -- it's got to be us; it's us, baby, against Florida State," defensive tackle Nathaniel Williams screamed as he made his way toward the stands. "We're 11-0. I never thought this could happen coming to Virginia Tech. It's a great feeling."
Faced with having to win this game to have a chance at the Sugar Bowl, the Hokies (11-0, 7-0 Big East Conference) started fast. Despite facing a Boston College team that was ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press poll and had just come off an inspirational win over Notre Dame, Virginia Tech scored the game's first 24 points, blasting through the Eagles' defense as if it were cotton candy.
Redshirt quarterback Michael Vick had 167 passing yards and 76 rushing yards in the first half, although it was hard to tell what was leading to the gaudy statistics: Vick's pinpoint accuracy and laser-beam throws or all the room the Hokies' receivers created downfield. Often playing with no one in a white jersey within spitting -- much less tackling -- distance, Andre Davis made a 69-yard catch and Derek Carter and Cullen Hawkins each had 30-yard grabs.
It wasn't until after halftime that Boston College woke up, perhaps by the cannon that was fired after each Hokies score. With Virginia Tech on its 1-yard line, poised to run the score to 31-0, the Eagles made a serious goal-line stand, stopping Shyrone Stith on three attempts. And then, unlike several other times earlier in the game, they turned that momentum into something constructive. On second down, quarterback Tim Hasselbeck launched a 97-yard bomb to Dedrick Dewalt for Boston College's first touchdown of the game. The extra point tightened the score to 24-7.
"We didn't just come here to show up -- we came here to win a football game," Eagles Coach Tom O'Brien said. "We were our own worst enemies in the first half. We had stupid mistakes and penalties, but we came back with a lot of pride in the second half and didn't give up for a second."
Despite another touchdown late in the game, the Eagles never really threatened Virginia Tech or Vick, who stayed at the helm through the Hokies' last active drive. Afterward, the celebration was launched -- first raucously, then cautiously, then raucously again, as players and fans mixed into a blur of elation.
Someone threw junior Cory Bird a necklace of blue Mardi Gras beads, while sophomore Chris Krebs (Robinson High) found his father in the stands and gave him a high-five. Defensive end Corey Moore lit up a cigar, saying later that "I wanted to cry, but there were too many people out there."
Although it will be more than a week before anyone knows for sure, there didn't seem to be anyone on the field doubting where the team was headed.
"We just tried to take care of business and show the nation what kind of team we are," Williams said. "I guess now it's up to the computers."
Game summary on Page D11