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December 9, 2008

Another freshly squeezed championship

By: Jimmy Robertson

The Hokies are headed back to the Orange Bowl after knocking off BC to claim the ACC title for the second straight year

Darren Evans recorded his third 100-yard rushing game of the season, piling up 114 yards in Tech's 30-12 win over BC in the ACC title game.

For roughly 15 minutes or so, one of the locker rooms in Raymond James Stadium down in Tampa turned into a dance club.

Once the Hokies got through the formalities of receiving an invitation from the Orange Bowl officials following their victory over Boston College in the ACC championship game – and accepting that invitation, of course – the players called for head coach Frank Beamer to get things started.

And Tech’s 62-year-old had no problems showing his … well … unique moves in front of a room bursting full of 18- to 22-year-old testosterone. Neither did the rest of Tech’s veteran staff, as one by one, every coach busted out a move or two in front of the team and each one brought forth a raucous display of laughter. Jim Weaver, Tech’s AD, Mike Gentry, Tech’s longtime strength and conditioning coach, and Mike Goforth, the Hokies’ top trainer, also got into the act.

Even team chaplain Johnny Shelton showed some moves.

It was truly a sight to behold.

Such are the gleeful things that happen when a team claims its second straight ACC title, as the Hokies did, winning by their largest margin of the season – 30-12 – over Boston College. It marked Tech’s third ACC title in five years, but none more special than this one.

“This is really good,” said Beamer in the postgame media session, minutes removed from his impromptu jig and soaked with both sweat and Gatorade from the traditional bath he got at the end of the game. “I’ve said it before, but this is the youngest football team we’ve had in some time, with the toughest schedule, and we’ve had some key injuries. We’ve had had some people give up on us.

“But this team hung together when it was tough. It goes back to leadership and we stayed together. To come back and win this ACC championship, it says a lot about the kids in this program and the coaching staff we have.”

Having lost to BC three of the previous four meetings, including once in Chestnut Hill, Mass., earlier this season, Tech started break-dancing early on in this one. On the Hokies’ second possession of the game, they sent a message, methodically driving 61 yards in 10 plays.

Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, fresh off an outstanding game against Virginia (he rushed for 137 yards and threw for 137), completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive (for 36 yards), and got in the end zone with a 5-yard run on third-and-4. Keys’ extra point gave the Hokies a 7-0 lead with 6:27 left in the first quarter.

“It was a called pass,” Taylor said of the touchdown. “But I knew if the defensive end came up the field, then I was going to take off and that’s what I ended up doing. I’ve got to credit the blocking by the backfield and by our linemen.”

Taylor and the Hokies grooved away again early in the second quarter. A 15-yard punt return by Macho Harris set the Hokies up with great field position at the Tech 49, and a 30-yard run by powerful Darren Evans got them inside the BC 10. On third-and-goal, Taylor avoided the BC rush and managed to scramble four yards into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the day. Keys’ extra point gave Tech a 14-0 lead with 11:08 remaining in the first half.

The start marked a stark contrast to what transpired in the teams’ earlier meeting. In that one, Tech struggled to move BC’s hulking defensive tackles, B.J. Ragi and Ron Brace – a combined nearly 650 pounds of humanity – or to control BC’s front seven, led by ACC defensive player of the year Mark Herzlich. As a result, Tech’s tailbacks mustered just 40 yards in a 28-23 loss.

But the Hokies eclipsed that in a little over a quarter.

“We had a good game plan, just like the last time we played them,” Tech center Ryan Shuman said. “But we just executed better this time and stayed on our blocks. We got a hat on our man and Darren made some nice runs. He broke some tackles. It all clicked.”

BC did manage a thrust into the end zone right before halftime. The Eagles marched 66 yards in three plays. A 51-yard screen pass from BC quarterback Dominique Davis to Montel Harris did most of the damage, getting the Eagles to the Tech 15, and two plays later, Davis completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rich Gunnell. Steve Aponavicius’ extra point cut the Tech lead to 14-7 with 1:29 left in the half.

But the second half was a Hokie high.

Keys – a redshirt senior from Stafford, Va., who didn’t even get to dress for the ACC title game a year ago – padded the Hokies’ lead when he drilled a 50-yard field goal with 6:11 left in the third quarter. His career long capped another time-draining 11-play, 50-yard drive that ate five minutes off the clock and gave the Hokies a 17-7 lead.

Then, two possessions later, Tech cornerback Stephan Virgil intercepted a Davis pass and returned it 36 yards to the BC 10. On the next play, Evans barreled in from 10 yards out and Keys’ extra point gave the Hokies a 24-7 lead with a little over a minute to go in the third quarter.

Unlike the coaching staff’s dance moves, Evans himself isn’t anything flashy. But the 210-pound mule of a back just grinds up chunks of yards. He finished with 114 yards on 31 carries, becoming just the second tailback this season (GT’s Jonathan Dwyer) to rush for more than 100 yards against BC’s defense – ranked seventh nationally against the run coming into the game.

And while Taylor earned the game’s MVP award, it was Evans’ workmanlike running that enabled the Hokies to earn nearly a 12-minute bulge in time of possession.

“There were some good holes and I took advantage of what they gave us,” said Evans, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau for the season. “Once you get into a rhythm, it’s easier to play the game that way.

“We played with a lot of intensity and so did they. That’s a good defense. That’s probably the best defense we’ve played against.”

Perhaps, but the group he sees in practice every day is pretty salty, too.

Orion Martin scooped up this fumble and returned it for his first career touchdown to cap the Hokies' victory.

BC added a field goal early in the fourth quarter following a turnover by Evans, but Tech’s defense proved mighty stout in this one. With over nine minutes to go, Jason Worilds jarred the ball loose from Davis, and Orion Martin was the lucky recipient. Martin scooped up the loose ball and waltzed 17 yards to ecstasy, scoring his first collegiate touchdown to put the game away.
Martin’s touchdown marked a fitting end to a defensive performance that saw the Hokies hold BC to 45 yards rushing, force four turnovers and record three sacks.

And his score started the boogie down in earnest.

Once the staff finished, Harris decided to lead the players in little routine of their own. The senior forsook the NFL for a year just for this moment.

“I feel blessed and overwhelmed,” Tech’s long-locked corner said. “When I got down on my hands and knees [to pray about his NFL decision], I feel like God told me to be here. Everything would fall in place, so I knew that was my calling. I just feel blessed. Blessed and overwhelmed.”

Harris was the last one out of Tech’s locker room, perhaps savoring what just transpired – the game, the victory, and of course, the dancing.

It certainly wasn’t stuff that would win on Dancing with the Stars. But one thing is for certain.

Tech will be doing the Hokie Pokey to Miami once again. And that is yet another sight to behold.

ACC Championship Game Notes

Taylor named ACC title game MVP: Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor was named the game’s MVP after accounting for two of Tech’s touchdowns, both of the rushing variety. He scored on runs of 5 and 4 yards, which marked his fifth and sixth rushing touchdowns of the season. He has rushed for at least two touchdowns in three games this season and now has 12 rushing touchdowns for his career.

Taylor needs just two rushing touchdowns to tie the Tech single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a QB. Michael Vick rushed for eight touchdowns in both 1999 and 2000.

Martin notches a first: Defensive end Orion Martin scored his first collegiate touchdown when he returned a fumble 17 yards for a score in the fourth quarter that gave the Hokies a 30-10 lead.

“It felt great,” Martin said. “I was happy on top of getting the win. Words can’t explain what I was feeling at the time. It all happened so fast. But I’m so thankful to be a part of this team.”

Martin became the fourth defensive player to score a touchdown this season for the Hokies and the score marked the 79th by the defense in head coach Frank Beamer’s tenure.

Evans breaks 1,000-yard plateau: Tech tailback Darren Evans broke the 1,000-yard plateau on his first carry of the game. His 114-yard performance puts him at 1,112 yards for the season.

The redshirt freshman from Indianapolis, Ind., became just the sixth freshman in ACC history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He also has the 10th-most rushing yards in a single season in Tech history.

“I couldn’t ask for more [out of this season],” said Evans, who rushed for a Tech single-game record 253 yards in the Hokies’ victory over Maryland.

Virgil with another pick: Tech cornerback Stephan Virgil intercepted BC quarterback Dominque Davis and returned it to the BC 10 in the third quarter, setting up a Tech touchdown that gave the Hokies a commanding 24-7 lead. The interception marked the fifth of the season for Virgil, a stat that ranks second on the team behind Macho Harris (six).

As a team, Tech has 15 interceptions on the season, with Virgil and Harris combining for 11 of those.