Virginia Tech Stifles Cincinnati To Win Orange Bowl, 20-7
Jan. 2, 2009
MIAMI (AP) - The opening moments were filled with just about every problem Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer feared his team would have against Cincinnati.
It was merely a blip.
Nearly everything else went according to Beamer's plan - and the Hokies ended a yearlong Orange Bowl hangover.
Darren Evans had 28 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Tyrod Taylor rushed for another score and No. 21 Virginia Tech beat No. 12 Cincinnati 20-7 in the Orange Bowl Thursday night, joining Southern California and Texas as the only schools to win 10 games in each of the past five seasons.
The Hokies (10-4) forced Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike into a season-high four interceptions. Pike - who wasn't even on Cincinnati's depth chart at the start of the season before blossoming into an all-Big East quarterback - threw for 239 yards and a touchdown, but had his night marred mightily by the picks and getting stopped on a fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter.
Mardy Gilyard had 255 all-purpose yards (158 receiving , 97 returning) and a touchdown catch for Cincinnati, which saw its six-game winning streak snapped. The Bearcats (11-3) came in as slight favorites over the Hokies, who lost this game to Kansas a year ago.
"All year, all year, all year we've been the underdogs," said Hokies' cornerback Victor 'Macho' Harris - who didn't jump to the NFL last year, in part, because he didn't want to leave school with an Orange Bowl loss. "All year. We had to scratch and claw our way to a victory. We had to scratch our way up to a victory. It says a lot about the character on our team."
So this one was especially sweet for Virginia Tech.
Really, for the entire Atlantic Coast Conference, too.
The Hokies became the first ACC team to win a BCS game since Florida State - ironically, perhaps - beat Virginia Tech, then a Big East member, for the national championship to close the 1999 season.
It was eight BCS chances, eight BCS losses for the ACC since.
And the oft-maligned league was just 5-12 over the past two seasons in all postseason games before the Hokies broke through, befuddling the Bearcats' spread offense with an array of different blitzes and, at times anyway, simply winning the battle up front.
"We did a good job mixing it up," Beamer said. "Overall, I'm really proud of this football team. We hung in there."
Evans got the clinching score early in the fourth, after Pike threw his third interception - albeit on a highlight-quality play by Virginia Tech defensive end Orion Martin.
Deep in his own territory, Pike rolled right and threw back to the left, hoping the misdirection would pay off. Martin never bit, made a diving interception at the Cincinnati 10, and Evans rumbled in from 6 yards out for a 20-7 lead with 11:29 left.
Pike got the Bearcats to the Virginia Tech 1 on the next drive, rolled out to his right and tried to run in on fourth-and-goal, and was stuffed by Barquell Rivers with 7:25 left to end Cincinnati's last realistic comeback chance.
Gilyard walked off the field with tears in his eyes.
"I'm really hurt," Gilyard said. "I really wanted this game for the seniors, the guys I came in with. I'm really, really hurt."
The Hokies' best defense was their ball-control offense. Virginia Tech held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
"It doesn't get any better than this. BCS, Orange Bowl champs," Harris said. "Being mentioned with teams like Texas and USC, it says a lot about our players, says a lot about Coach Beamer. BCS - finally, we got one!"
Virginia Tech entered the stadium to the familiar sounds of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" - the song that usually blares when the Hokies enter Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
Nonetheless, it was Cincinnati that looked very much at home in the beginning of its BCS debut.
The Bearcats took the opening kickoff, sent their spread offense onto the field and made the Hokies look very confused. Pike found Gilyard for a 38-yard pickup on the third play from scrimmage, and they hooked up for a spectacular 15-yard touchdown three plays later to open the scoring.
Facing a third-and-9 from the right hash, Pike waited ... waited ... waited ... before lofting a fade to the far left of the end zone. Gilyard took off on a sprint, made a diving catch as he sailed out of bounds and managed to just barely drag his right toe on the turf painted in Virginia Tech's colors for a 7-0 Cincinnati lead.
It looked easy.
Ah, but the nation's seventh-ranked defense would eventually get its bearings.
"We don't always play well but we always play hard," Beamer said. "That's what we did tonight."
The Hokies held Cincinnati to 137 yards, rendered the Bearcats' running game nonexistent (eight carries, 11 yards) over the remainder of the half, and battled their way to a 10-7 lead by intermission.
Taylor tied the game with a zig-zig-zag rushing effort from 17 yards early in the second quarter. Out of the shotgun on third-and-9, he started straight ahead, darted right, cut back left and then made a sharper move to run just past the pylon - the quarterback's seventh rushing score of the season.
Cincinnati had a great chance to reclaim the lead later in the second, until Pike made the sort of error he avoided all season, throwing into what essentially was triple-coverage while trying to force the ball to Dominick Goodman in the back of the end zone.
He came into Thursday with seven interceptions on the year.
Stephan Virgil made the interception, the Hokies went 54 yards in 11 plays and Dustin Keys' 43-yard field goal ended the half.
Keys made a 35-yarder to open the third for a 13-7 lead. Pike then threw another interception on the ensuing Cincinnati possession, Kam Chancellor getting the takeaway for the Hokies, sparking plenty of fist-shaking and helmet-slapping on an excited Virginia Tech sideline.
It wasn't exactly a delirious crowd, though.
There were large patches of empty seats in Dolphin Stadium, which wasn't altogether unexpected. Some tickets were available through online resale outlets in recent days - even Thursday morning - for $1. Plenty more were offered for well below face value, and the building looked a bit emptier after the Doobie Brothers finished their halftime set.
Event officials said 15,781 sold tickets were unused.
And by the end, it seemed like only the heartiest Hokies fans remained to regale the back-to-back ACC champs one final time.
"In the past we haven't been the top dog at the end," Harris said, "but tonight, that all changed."