Hoos Prepare For Rivalry Showdown
Nov 20, 2012
The Hokies and Hoos fight it out this Saturday at noon.
Saturday will mark the 94th meeting between rival in-state schools Virginia and Virginia Tech. The series, dating back to 1895, is led by the Hokies 51-37-5. The series was practically even until the late 90's. But the Hoos have managed just one win since their dramatic come-from-behind victory in Blacksburg in 1998. The last win was a home contest in 2003 when current Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub led the Cavaliers to a resounding victory, 35-21.
"We know what the series is," UVa coach Mike London said. "We know what the records are. That's something that's made plain and everyone knows about it. But this year's approach for this team is an approach to get them ready to play, you know, a rival team that has done well in the last several years, and to play on the road at a venue that's been known to have a loud crowd and a crowd that gets into the game."
The Cavaliers hope to break the Hokies' streak of 8 straight wins this Saturday, but the game unfortunately won't shape up as nicely as fans had hoped. Had Virginia and Virginia Tech each won their respective games this past weekend, this Saturday's match-up would have had bowl implications for both teams. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers didn't hold up their end of the bargain in a loss to North Carolina while the Hokies managed to slip by Boston College in overtime.
With bowl implications now just in play for Virginia Tech, Virginia will be in a position to be the spoiler. A win by Virginia puts both programs at 5-7 for the year. But in spite of the Hoos' inability to play in December, it's a game that still matters. It is, after all, a rivalry - one of the oldest in college football. In the past, the records of each team haven't mattered much. It's pride on the line, mostly, and one last chance for UVa's seniors to go out on a winning note.
"The fact that it is our in state rival means a lot, particularly for some of the in state players that we have that are on our team," said London. "They know a lot about each other; much has been made about the high school rivalries and all those other things. For us it's the last opportunity for our fourth and fifth year seniors to have an experience to go out on a winning note, and that's the main focus."
Maryland's Board of Regents decided to shake up the ACC on Monday when it voted unanimously to leave the conference for the Big Ten. The move caught many by surprise, including coach Mike London.
"That came as a shock and as a surprise," London said. "Schools are making decisions based on what's in the best interest of their universities. Obviously there are financial implications to it. But it's been a shock. I believe Rutgers is going as well. And I know with us just getting Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, that at the end of all this conference realignment may not be over. Kind of a 'wait and see' moment now."
But if the conference can manage to retain most of its original members and continue to attract additional programs of merit, Maryland's departure might turn out to be Virginia's gain when it comes to recruiting the D.C. Metro area.
"I think that those young men in that D.C. Maryland area probably have more of an opportunity by coming to Virginia to be seen by their parents and their community to see them play a Tech or a Duke or UNC or NC State as opposed to traveling an away Big Ten slate," London said. "I know the media market that [Maryland has] talked about will enhance their opportunities, and I'm quite sure it will. But at the same time when you talk about parents and families seeing you play and being able to look at it on a map and talking about the geography of it is going to be important, as well."
This season Virginia's coaches haven't been able to decide on either Michael Rocco or Phillip Sims as the primary quarterback. Each has seen his share of starts and complete games. And at other times, each has had to come off the bench and relieve the other. There are games where the two quarterback system has worked, as seen in the most recent wins over NC State and Miami. But the shifting of quarterbacks hasn't always worked out well, and Virginia (particularly Coach London) cannot afford another losing season in 2013. Now that this year's season of rotating quarterbacks is nearing an end, will next season see much of the same or will Virginia coaches chose one option and try to build on that?
"You know, this year the quarterback situation was dictated out of need, borne out of necessity, and what happens in the spring and next year I'm quite sure will be re-evaluated," London said. "You'd like to have a quarterback in the succession thereof, and hopefully as we have these quarterbacks on our roster and separated them by years that we'd be able to do that. Again, this year was based on what we thought was in the best interest of the team, but obviously you look at the guys that you have and where they are in their year of eligibility remaining to try and set up a succession order that one can play and then the next one behind him can play when their turn comes."
Quarterback Phillip Sims on the importance of ending Virginia Tech's 8-game win streak over Virginia: "As a competitor, it would be big time for us - to be the team that put an end to the streak. But I think it's more than just the streak we're getting ready for this week. We know that we're capable of winning this football game and we just have to do the things we're capable of doing. We have to prepare this week like this means something. We know we can't be bowl eligible. But I don't think too many guys are going to give up on the season. I think we still have something to work for - getting better for next season. This game can set the tempo going into the spring, offseason workouts, and getting ready for next season. This is a big momentum builder for us as a team."
Over the last 15 years there hasn't been much room for celebration among my Wahoo brethren with regard to the UVa-VT football rivalry. There's the aforementioned 2003 win at Scott Stadium, which featured a number of current NFL players including Matt Schaub (QB), Heath Miller (TE), Jason Snelling (RB), Chris Canty (DE), and Ahmad Brooks (LB). It was a fun game to watch, and probably in the Top 5 all time of UVa-VT matchups for Wahoo fans. Here's a look back to that game:
But the game many Virginia fans likely remember the most, and the one Hokie fans would love to forget, is the 1998 contest in Lane Stadium. The Cavaliers were down 29-7 at the half and were getting beat in every phase of the game. While All American safety Poindexter could not participate in the game, it didn't stop him from affecting the outcome.
"He came [into the locker room at half time] and asked the coaches to leave," said Ahmad Hawkins. "He challenged us. He said we can't feel sorry for ourselves because we're down, we're a lot better than what we're playing, and that we had to come together - rally on the road, it's us against the world. He said we've got to take it to them because they think they can just walk all over us. He didn't like our body language and didn't like the way they were celebrating and taunting us."
Poindexter's words must have taken hold, because an entirely different Virginia team competed in the second half to erase the deficit and win the game on a dramatic 46-yard touchdown pass to Ahmad Hawkins. But there were a number of other significant plays that happened to set up the game-winning moment. Virginia scored on its first drive of the second half, but it wasn't without its own share of drama. On its own 39-yard line facing a 3rd-and-17, Brooks found Terrence Wilkins for a 30-yard gain. Then facing 4th-and-3, coach George Welsh elected to go for it. The result was a 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kevin Coffey.
On Virginia Tech's ensuing possession, the Cavaliers forced a three and out and a punt attempt. On their own 18-yard line, the Hokies' Jimmy Kibble took the snap and tried to punt, but was tackled by a host of Virginia defensive players before he could get the ball away. Side note: Kibble got away with kicking UVa's Antwoine Womack out of bounds after a kickoff return in the first half, which may have sparked the intensity of Virginia's punt block unit.
Ahmad Hawkins poses after scoring the game-winning touchdown in 1998.
Virginia took possession at after the failed punt attempt, but quarterback Aaron Brooks fumbled a snap on the Hokies' 2 yard line, giving the ball back. But another strong defensive stop got the Hoos back into the game. With VT facing a 3rd-and-11 at its own 46, Byron Thweatt intercepted a pass on the Virginia sideline and returned it for a touchdown.
Down 11 points in the fourth quarter, Brooks and Coffey connected again to get the ball to the Hokie 18. One the next play, Thomas Jones made a diving grab in the end zone. Brooks then dove over the top for a 2-point conversion, drawing Virginia a little closer, 32-29.
Virginia held the Hokies in check on the next drive and took possession at its own 7-yard line with just 3:21 remaining. All the Hoos needed was a field goal to tie, but Aaron Brooks and Ahmad Hawkins thought better, connecting on the game-winning touchdown. Brooks finished the game 19 of 32 for 345 yards and 3 TD's. It was the second straight year Brooks broke the hearts of Hokie fans.
Not so fast! Virginia Tech still had time on the clock and had moved the ball near midfield, but Virginia's Wali Rainer intercepted a pass and ended Tech's chances to regain the lead. UVa ran out the clock and left Lane Stadium ripping away a victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was, and still is, the greatest comeback in Virginia school history. And it happened against Virginia's biggest rival, and on the Hokies' home turf, no less. As satisfying as that is, it's unfortunately the last time Virginia won in Lane Stadium and the last time TheSabre.com was on hand to cover a game in Blacksburg. But at least one of those factors will change this Saturday as TheSabre.com will be represented to cover the match-up. Perhaps a win is finally in the cards for UVa over Tech - another dramatic finish like this one?
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