SHREVEPORT, La. — The final thing Frank Beamer did as head coach at Virginia Tech was make history. In front of a sparse crowd at Shreveport’s Independence Stadium — a crowd that may have reminded Beamer of his first bowl win in 1993, in the same city, in the same event — the legendary coach led Virginia Tech to a 55-52 win over Tulsa to record the 280th victory of his career.
“All I know is, what a football game,” Beamer said. “It was exciting. First time I came to Shreveport, I left here a happy guy. Last time I came to Shreveport, I leave here a happy guy. I’m going to come back to Shreveport just for the hell of it.”
As Beamer brought his 29-year head coaching career full circle, he set a few records for future coaches to target. The Hokies took a 45-31 lead into halftime — the most first-half points scored in a bowl. The final score marked the highest total in Independence Bowl history. And Beamer’s finale was the highest-scoring game for Virginia Tech in his tenure, and the two teams combined for 1,161 total yards.
Fans expecting to see Bud Foster’s defense lock horns with Tulsa’s 11th-ranked passing offense were rewarded instead with four touchdowns in the game’s first five minutes.
The final two minutes of Beamer’s tenure were the game’s most contentious. After Tulsa (6-7) had cut the Hokies’ lead to 10 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dane Evans to wide receiver Josh Atkinson, Evans then connected with Keyarris Garrett to make the score 55-52 as the clock further wound down.
But Evans threw two incomplete passes and was sacked twice in three plays, once by Virginia Tech senior Dadi Nicholas and once on a combined effort by Nicholas and fellow senior Luther Maddy.
“These guys continued to play hard and made the plays when they needed to,” Beamer said.
For all of the Virginia Tech history associated with the Independence Bowl — the 1993 win was the first of 23 consecutive bowl appearances for the Hokies, a wooden plaque of Beamer hangs in the bowl’s Hall of Honor as a result — it took less than five minutes for this year’s Hokies to notch a few of their own entries in the program’s record book. A 75-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Michael Brewer to wide receiver Isaiah Ford, the longest career connection for both players, made Ford the first receiver in Virginia Tech history to go over 1,000 yards in a single season.
Ford, who led the ACC with 10 touchdown catches, had 12 catches for 227 yards to finish his sophomore season with 1,164 receiving yards. He was voted the offensive player of the game.
About a minute earlier, freshman running back Travon McMillian secured a 1,000-yard season with a 51-yard touchdown run, Virginia Tech’s first score of the game. He led the Hokies on the ground with 84 yards on 16 attempts and recorded two touchdowns.
Brewer, playing just over 300 miles away from his hometown Lake Travis, Tex., was the most prolific he’s been all season, completing 23 of 37 attempts for 344 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
“It’s pretty special,” Brewer said, tears in his eyes, of quarterbacking Beamer’s final game. “College football has taken me through a lot of crazy twists and turns. . . . It’s something to be proud of, and I’ll always hang my hat on that.”
By the time the explosive first quarter ended with Virginia Tech up 24-21, the points total already had equaled the highest-scoring half in Independence Bowl history. Foster’s defense gave up the most points in a half since the 2003 Insight Bowl, which the Hokies lost, 52-49, against a California team led by Aaron Rogers.
Fittingly, Beamer’s final victory also included a touchdown off special teams — a hallmark of many of his best “Beamer Ball” teams — as Greg Stroman scored off a 67-yard punt return to put Virginia Tech up 45-21 in the second quarter.
“Coach Beamer was talking all season like, ‘We’re gonna get one, we’re gonna get one,’ ” Stroman said. “I’m glad I finally got one for him.”
Said Beamer: “To be able to stay in one place in this business for 29 years, I’ve kind of amazed myself. I’d have kicked myself out of there a long time ago.”