Virginia Tech Revisited

Who else was getting sick of Virginia Tech's so called dominance of the BIG EAST the past few years? Canes fans nationwide let out a collective groan when forced to watch state rival and conference rival face off in the 2000 Sugar Bowl for the National Championship.

The greater of two evils prevailed as Florida State took down the Hokies, 46-29. Back then, Miami was on the outside looking in but that is no longer an issue as the Canes are again light years ahead of the rest of the conference. A few years later UM is being referred to as "the Tiger Woods of the BIG EAST" as conference opponents will struggle to keep up.

Before 1995 the thought of Virgina Tech beating Miami was nothing more than a pipe dream for Hokie fans. It was unthinkable. Not possible. The Canes held a 12-0 advantage before Tech went on their five-year run against Miami. UM was feeling the effects of probation and lost its stranglehold on the BIG EAST crown. To their credit Virginia Tech capitalized. The lowlight for Miami fans was the 43-10 loss at Blacksburg in 1999.

While the Canes took the 10-0 lead against the No. 2 team in the nation, the Hokies scored 43 unanswered in the win. Michael Vick led the charge and his troops followed. The Hokies forced six turnovers and rattled UM slinger Kenny Kelly into two interceptions before knocking him out of the game. Par for the course were Tech's defense and special teams. The Hokies' 23 fourth quarter points came on a 64-yard punt return, 51-yard fumble return, 42-yard field goal and a final fumble recovery in the end zone.

As the Hokies cruised to the National Championship game, the Canes wrapped up the 1999 season with a 9-4 record and a Gator Bowl victory. Unbeknownst to all, the Hokie dominance of the Canes had come to an end.

On November 4th, 2000 the No. 2 Hokies made their biennial trip to the Orange Bowl for a crack at the No. 3 Hurricanes. Virginia Tech was riding high on a 19-game regular season winning streak as the Canes had won five straight since the loss at Washington.

While the marquee match up some luster due to Vick's ankle injury, it would be hard to argue that his presence would have affected the 20-point differential. Tech spotted the Canes a 28-point lead before rallying for 21 in the final quarter. Miami answered back with 13 of their own providing a final score of 41-21. Unless Michael Vick could double as a defensive back and Thorpe Award candidate, there was no way Virginia Tech was going to slow down the high powered Miami offense.

Five minutes into the contest, ever-reliable Ken Dorsey connected with Santana Moss on a 42-yard touchdown strike to give the Canes the early lead. These two would hook up four times that day with the highlight coming in the fourth quarter when Dorsey hit Moss for an 80-yard touchdown pushing the Canes ahead 35-7. Rectifying his lackluster, three-interception performance against Louisiana Tech the previous week, Dorsey was electric against VPI. No. 11 spread the ball between six different receivers for 283 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

On the ground it was the James Jackson Show. J.J. scampered for 145 yards on 28 carries while finding the end zone once in the first quarter. Reliable backup Najeh Davenport lit up the Hokie defense with a 50-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter just to make things interesting.

Unfortunately this was Miami's last shot at a highly ranked opponent and it wasn't enough to propel UM to the No. 2 spot for the rest of the season. While many see the 2000 season as a success, there will always remain that feeling of being slighted. Going 11-1 and taking down Florida in the Sugar Bowl was a good consolation prize, but Miami wanted No.1 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and their shot at the title. Anything less was not good enough.

With no official BIG EAST Championship Game, forecasters and analysts assumed the "unofficial" conference would take place when Miami and Virginia Tech would clash. That said, the contest was moved to the final week of regular season. Drama and hype were added in the sense that the game would be played in Blacksburg in early winter, providing a hostile environment for visiting Miami. Many expected both teams to be undefeated going into this match up, providing a much anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 billing.

While the No. 1 Canes strolled into Lane Stadium 10-0 and fresh off a 65-7 pasting of No. 12 Washington, the Hokies could not hold up their end in this highly touted meeting. Virginia Tech's bid at a perfect season came to an end on October 27th when visiting Syracuse stunned the Hokies 22-14. The following week a dazed bunch of Hokies were blindsided on the road by a much-improved Pittsburgh team, 35-7.

Sitting not so pretty at 8-2 with a No. 13 ranking, this marquee match up now became a somewhat meaningless game for Tech. Ruining the Hurricanes' season was the rallying cry. There was no shot at getting to a BCS bowl. A bid to the Gator Bowl to battle Florida State – in a contest that would bear no resemblance to the 1999 National Championship game – had already been accepted.

Oh how the "mighty" had fallen.

Even with an 8-2 record, the Hokies were a huge threat to the Canes. Maybe even more so than if all the money was on the table. They could afford to play loose. They weren't expected to win. Their post-season fate was already decided. You think the Canes weren't aware of this? The same Miami team that played spoiler to No. 2 UCLA in 1998? A Cane bunch that had already accepted – of all things – a Gator Bowl bid to battle Georgia Tech on New Year's Day. UCLA came into the Orange Bowl expecting a win and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl for their crack at the National Championship. The Bruins forgot to pack their defense in their carry on bags and surrendered 49 points – in big part due to ultra-Cane Edgerrin James rolling for 299 yards on the ground.

The Canes knew all to well the role of spoiler and were not going to find themselves as the spoilee in the final game of the 2001 season. Sixty minutes and the No. 13 team were all that stood between them and the ultimate goal of Pasadena and a Rose Bowl berth.

Miami played careful football early in the contest. No stupid mistakes, yet no ballsy play calling either. Keep it simple, stupid. A one point win was good enough for a trip to "the ‘ship" and all Canes were fully aware.

As the first quarter came to a close, the Hokies had the 3-0 lead and the momentum. It was then that Miami's offensive attack made its presence known.

Dorsey connected with favorite target Jeremy Shockey early in the second quarter for Miami's first touchdown. Minutes later it was Clinton Portis finding the end zone on a seven yard run. Todd Sievers added two first half field goals to give the Canes a 20-3 cushion but it was the Hurricane defense that would have to come up strong in the end.

Miami defenders rattled Tech QB Grant Noel all day limiting him to 81 yards, forcing him into four interceptions and keeping him out of the end zone all day long. Still, even though battling a potent offense and smothering defense, the Hokies found a way to rally and throw a late scare into a Hurricane team that felt it had the contest all wrapped up.

With just under 9:00 minutes remaining, Miami held tight to a 26-10 lead. Moments later Jarrett Ferguson barreled into the end zone for his second score of the game. A Noel to Terrell Parham 2-point conversion had the Hokies within eight. Still, no reason to panic. The Canes would have the ball, the lead and the offensive firepower to either score or chew enough time off the clock leaving the Hokies out of options.

Instead, Miami reverted back to conservative play calling and found themselves in a do or die position they never should've been in.

Aided by a pass interference call, the Canes found themselves at their 41-yard line with a 1st and 10 and 7:37 left in the game. Back to back runs by Portis left the Canes with a 3rd and 10 while leaving zero doubt in Hokie minds that a pass was on the horizon. Dorsey attempted to sneak a ball to Ethnic Sands in triple coverage, which was broken up.

With just over a minute eaten off the clock, Miami was forced to punt. In vintage Hokie form, Beamer Ball struck at the best or worst possible time, depending on where one's loyalties lie.

A blocked punt resulted in a Hokie touchdown and a two-point conversion was all that stood in the way of a tied game – a game that No.1 Miami once lead 20-3.

The rest is history. Hokie receiver Ernest Wilford threw defender Philip Buchanon but still couldn't come up with the reception. Pass incomplete and the Canes held onto the 26-24 lead.

While less conservative on the next drive, the Canes still came up short and were forced to punt again. But even with a short field, the Hokies couldn't take advantage. Game breaker and team leader Ed Reed again saved a season. While not as dramatic as his Boston College game saving heroics, equally as important. The victory was secured, the win-streak against Virginia Tech stood at two games and a trip to Pasadena was guaranteed.

Virginia Tech still poses a threat to most of the BIG EAST, but Miami should have their number yet again in 2002. The Hokies lost eight players to the NFL last season but did it without the inability to reload and replace as the Canes do. Only Miami could lose 11 starters and still earn preseason No. 1 rankings the following season. While running back Lee Suggs returns from injury, the Hokies still have a question mark at quarterback in Grant Noel which could open the door for the sooner than expected start of Marcus Vick – baby bro of Mike.

Another regular season finale is on tap for these two squads. December 7th is the date and ABC will again carry this unofficial BIG EAST Championship. Suggs has already made his opinion known. In a recent chat on ESPN.com he was asked if anyone in the conference could take down the mighty Canes. His reply?

"We can beat Miami. We are the best team in the conference."

Pretty bold statement from someone who watched from the sidelines last season and has never been a part of a Hokie squad that beat the Canes.

He'll have his chance to attempt to shine on December 7th. In the meanwhile he just gave a Hurricane team some locker room bulletin board material that will be posted from today until that finale.

You just unleashed hell, Lee. Bad move, bro. Hope you can run the ball like you can run your mouth. Best of luck on December 7th because you're going to need it.

Born and raised in Miami, Chris Bello now lives in San Diego, CA and works as a freelance writer. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at cbello@san.rr.com


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