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SHREVEPORT, La. (hokiesports.com) – Virginia Tech made the final game for its head coach a memorable one, beating Tulsa 55-52 in a record-setting performance Saturday night at Independence Stadium in Shreveport.
The win marked the final one for Frank Beamer, who decided in November to retire at the conclusion of this season after 29 seasons as the Hokies’ head coach. Tech’s players doused Beamer as he walked across the field to shake the hands of Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery.
Beamer finished his career with 280 coaching victories, including 238 at Tech. The win also marked the 11th bowl win for Beamer, who won three of his final four bowl games.
The win – Tech’s fourth in the final five games of the season – enabled the Hokies to extend their streak of winning seasons to 23 straight. They finished 7-6 overall.
“The first time, we came to Shreveport, I left here a happy guy,” an elated Beamer said afterward “The last time I come to Shreveport, I leave here a happy guy. I’m going to come back to Shreveport just for the hell of it. I like it down here.
“I’d say for the football team … the way we hang in there and keep battling, and we got up against a quarterback tonight who really threw well. They’ve got some tall guys that went up and got it. We got to scrambling around a little bit with personnel, but I give them credit. I thought we had a quarterback that stayed in there and battled and threw a lot of good balls, too.
“Great win for the program and a great way to finish this thing up.”
The Hokies set a school record for points in a bowl game and total offense (598) in a bowl game, among the many records set in what turned out to be the highest-scoring Independence Bowl in history. Wide receiver Isaiah Ford set individual school records for receptions in a bowl game (12) and receiving yards in a bowl game (227). One of his catches was a 75-yarder for a touchdown, which marked the longest reception of his career.
But a defensive play sealed the game – arguably a perfect ending for a defensive-minded coach such as Beamer.
Tulsa (6-7) cut Tech’s lead to 55-52 on a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dane Evans to Keyarris Garrett with 3:47 remaining. The Hokies picked up a first down on their ensuing drive, but ultimately were forced to punt, and the Golden Hurricane took over at the Tulsa 20 with two minutes left.
Tulsa drove to its 46, but on second-and-10, Tech’s Luther Maddy sacked quarterback Dane Evans for a six-yard loss to the 40. An incomplete pass on third down left the Golden Hurricane facing fourth-and-16.
Forced to go for it, Evans went back to pass. But Tech defensive end Dadi Nicolas sacked him, sealing the game for the Hokies.
“I just wanted to finish it strong with my teammates, my brothers,” Nicolas said. “We didn’t want to take an ‘L.’ That was not an option for us. We kept sticking together the whole time, and God willing, He gave me the power, the strength and the skills to be able to finish that game.
“After I got the sack, it was just a great feeling. I haven’t felt that feeling – a clean sack like that – in a while. I really wanted one. It was a great feeling. I looked up , and all I saw was my teammates running to me on the field. That was just a great experience. That was the perfect play just to remember my whole college career.”
The Hokies trailed 7-0 and 14-7 early in the game, as the two teams went back and fourth early and often in the first five minutes of the game. But Tech tied the game on a 75-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Brewer to Ford and grabbed a 17-14 lead on a 27-yard field goal by Joey Slye with 9:53 left in the quarter.
That gave the Hokies a lead they would not relinquish. Sam Rogers’ 14-yard touchdown run gave Tech a 24-14 lead at the end of the first quarter – the most points scored by a Tech team in a quarter of a bowl game.A Bucky Hodges touchdown run, a Travon McMillian touchdown run and Greg Stroman’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown enabled Tech to take a 45-21 lead in the second quarter. Tulsa scored 10 points late in the second quarter to make things interesting, cutting the lead to 45-31 at halftime.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Hokies went 81 yards in 15 plays, scoring on a 1-yard run by Trey Edmunds with 7:38 left in the third quarter. Joey Slye’s extra point gave the Hokies a 52-31 lead.
“The offensive line played great,” Brewer said. “We told them there at the beginning of the game that, if we could keep getting big chunks in the run game, then it would open things up and make it easier in pass protection. We felt like if we could get some time – Isaiah and Bucky [Hodges], in particular – then we could get them open down the field. You saw that.”
The Golden Hurricane scored 21 points in the final 20 minutes sandwiched around a field goal by Slye, who tied the school record for field goals in a season with his 23rd (Dustin Keyes, 2008). But Tulsa couldn’t get into field goal position on its final drive at the end.
Brewer completed 23 of 37 for 344 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. McMillian rushed for 82 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns to lead the Hokies’ rushing attack.
Ford was named offensive MVP of the bowl game. He also became the first Tech receiver in school history to go over 1,000 yards in a season.
“It gets down to people,” Beamer said. “These are two great players for us [Brewer and Ford], but two great people. Isaiah’s mom sent me the nicest letter this week. That’s what it is really all about. That’s what makes this game so good. That’s why I know I’ve been fortunate to stay around guys like this that long. That’s my final word.”