Too many early mistakes and too many injuries were too much for No. 2-ranked Virginia Tech tonight in the Sugar Bowl, as No. 1 Florida State pulled away for a 46-29 victory and the national championship.
"I was a little disappointed in the first half that our special teams let us down," said Virginia Tech all-American defensive lineman Corey Moore, who was credited with just one tackle. "And we don't normally do that. We didn't play like Virginia Tech in the first half. We took it into halftime and regrouped. . . . I love my teammates and it will be hard for me to walk away from my family. Those guys are my family."
The Hokies fell behind 28-7 early in the second quarter, rallied to take a brief one-point lead late in the third quarter and scored the most points by a losing team in the Sugar Bowl. But they couldn't overcome Florida State's big plays--three touchdown passes longer than 40 yards, a blocked punt for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown--or the loss of key players at key times.
Virginia Tech starting tailback Shyrone Stith averaging 102 yards rushing per game and 25.8 yards per kickoff return. He rushed for 68 yards and returned two kickoffs for 59 yards tonight, but then suffered a sprained left ankle before halftime and didn't return. Backup Andre Kendrick scored on third-quarter touchdown runs of 29 and six yards. The latter, with 2 minutes 13 seconds left in the period, gave the Hokies a 29-28 lead.
But Kendrick, who rushed for 69 yards--64 in the second half--said: "You've got to give credit where credit is due. Their players came out and played hard and capitalized on our mistakes. But they didn't whip our butts. We had the ball for way more plays [81 to 57], the defense was pounding them and the offense was doing their job. The big plays killed us tonight."
Virginia Tech began the night basically without starting wide receiver and punt returner Ricky Hall, a senior who broke his foot in practice last week. He played sparingly tonight, but wasn't a factor.
"It was very tough to watch," said Hall, who left the Superdome on crutches. "Very tough."
And on the drive on which Florida State took the lead for good, cornerbacks Anthony Midget and Ike Charlton were hurt. Midget was briefly shaken up, and Charlton was suffering from leg cramps when Florida State wide receiver Ron Dugans scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Chris Weinke, and wide receiver Peter Warrick hauled in a pass for a two-point conversion and 36-29 lead with 12:59 left. Charlton said the cramps kept coming back as he tried to return during that series.
In the first half, Virginia Tech was hurt by the kind of mistakes into which it forced opponents during its 11-0 regular season.
"We did things that were uncharacteristic of our football team," said Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, whose team committed three turnovers.
For example, a stunning 10-play drive to open the game ended with a botched play on fourth down and less than a yard from the Florida State 4. An option play was called, but quarterback Michael Vick turned the wrong way, was hit and fumbled. The ball rolled into the end zone where nose guard Corey Simon recovered.
"Michael Vick is going to be great," Midget said of the redshirt freshman who completed 15 of 29 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown, and ran 23 times for 97 yards and another score. "It's hard for him now, because he made some mistakes, but Michael Vick is going to be great."
Said Vick: "They deserve to win. We did everything in our power that we could to win the football game, but wasn't good enough. In my heart we're still champions. Every man on this team, from the first man to the last man, we're still champions."