Virginia Tech 21, Virginia 9
-- Virginia Tech senior safety Willie Pile bounced into the Hokies' postgame room carrying the bright orange sign he had ripped from the base of the Commonwealth Cup in the locker room. The sign, made by the Hokies' coaching staff this week, read: "This has been in our possession for 1,156 days."
Pile asked for a pen, and then nodded as he slyly scratched out the "6" and replaced it with a "7".
Brushing aside swirling snow and a three-game losing skid the likes of which it hadn't faced in a decade, No. 22 Virginia Tech posted a 21-9 win over Virginia. The victory, led by the Hokies' defense and special teams, was enough to warm the crowd of 65,097, the largest ever to watch a football game in the state of Virginia.
With a surprisingly small U-Va. contingent on hand, it was an almost unanimous celebration of the Hokies' fourth straight victory over the Cavaliers. The win allowed Virginia Tech to retain possession of the Commonwealth Cup, the trophy that is passed annually to the winner of this rivalry.
"The coaches put that on there as a reminder for us that this is what we had to fight for," Pile said. "Our season hasn't gone the way we wanted, but this was something tangible we could fight for. I can leave saying that in my four years I never lost to them. I hope the guys behind me next year can say the same thing.
"I can tell you this: A win makes everything so much better, it's ridiculous. Forget the three-game losing streak. We've got a one-game win streak, and that's what we're taking to Miami."
The Hokies (9-3) close out their regular season next week at No. 1 Miami, but now seem destined for the Dec. 26 Insight Bowl in Phoenix regardless of that game's outcome. Virginia (8-5) is also bowl bound, but its destination is now murkier. The Cavaliers appear to be the leading contender for the Dec. 23 Tangerine Bowl in Orlando.
"It was less than optimum conditions," Virginia Coach Al Groh said of the freezing temperatures, wind gusts of nearly 40 mph and intermittent snow. "[But] the other team played well enough to win, whether the game was in Bermuda or Blacksburg."
Things didn't appear to be going Virginia Tech's way early. Sophomore quarterback Bryan Randall threw his 11th interception of the season on the third play from scrimmage after Groh had elected to kick off -- and have the wind at his team's back in the first and third quarters -- despite the fact it would give the Hokies, who won the toss but deferred their decision to the second half, the ball to start both halves.
It looked like the move would pay off, though, when freshman place kicker Connor Hughes booted a 20-yard field goal seven plays later to help the Cavaliers strike first.
As impressive as the kick was given the conditions, the Hokies were not to be upstaged by special teams, long their specialty. On the second play of the second quarter, Hokies sophomore Justin Hamilton broke through Virginia's punt-block protection and ignited the crowd with a textbook block that bounced 36 yards before freshman Darryl Tapp scooped it up and ran the remaining 11 yards for a 7-3 lead.
"I was stacked behind one of our down linemen . . . and I was supposed to just attack the punter's foot," Hamilton said. "It worked just the way Coach Beamer drew it up."
Beamer, whose team has blocked seven kicks this season and 97 kicks in his 16-year tenure, draws up at least one specific play each week for each upcoming opponent.
"I think it was a great boost there," Beamer said. "I was afraid we weren't going to score there . . . but thank goodness Darryl Tapp came through and picked it up and got it in the end zone."
The Hokies upped their lead to 14-3 midway through the second quarter on a four-yard pitch to senior tailback Lee Suggs, who increased his NCAA record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown to 25.
Another miscue by Virginia Tech's offense -- a third-quarter fumble by sophomore tailback Kevin Jones (91 yards) at the Hokies 25-yard line -- led to a 15-yard scoring toss from Virginia junior Matt Schaub to freshman tight end Hath Miller, but the missed extra point left the score at 14-9.
Virginia, led by freshman tailback Wali Lundy's career-high 127 yards rushing, found itself in Virginia Tech territory again with just less than a minute remaining in the third quarter. But instead of taking the lead, the Cavaliers were halted by an interception by junior Garnell Wilds at the Hokies 3-yard line.
Two possessions later, the Hokies clinched the victory on a six-yard pitch to Suggs, who bullied his way into the end zone for the 21-9 lead. The crowd and the Hokies' sideline erupted in unison at the sight.
"We just were trying to get back to the kind of game we played in those first eight," said Suggs, who finished with 108 yards and two scores. "And this is the best team to do it against. That's bragging rights for another year."