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September 11, 2009

Celebrating a Silver Anniversary

By: Jimmy Robertson

In the spring of 1984, Doug Waters started the Hokie Huddler, a publication devoted to the coverage of Virginia Tech athletics. The publication has changed names and formats over the course of 25 years, and this year, we want to celebrate the silver anniversary of the publication by taking a look back at what transpired at Virginia Tech in 1984.

This month, we’re taking a look at the Hokies’ huge, season-opening, come-from-behind victory over Wake Forest on a Saturday night in Winston-Salem, N.C. Here is an excerpt from a column that Mr. Waters wrote in the Sept. 11, 1994, issue of the Hokie Huddler:

How big a win was it? Huge

By Doug Waters

The Hokie Huddler, September 1984

Virginia Tech’s breathtaking 21-20 win over Wake Forest on Saturday night may well have been a turning point that Hokie fans will long remember. A turning point, not just for this season, but for the Tech football program, which has yearned for that elusive ingredient all successful teams have: the ability to win when they have to have it.

Last year’s team showed that ability against Memphis State in the second week of the season, when a second consecutive loss would have hung an immoveable black cloud over 1983. But that win came after the frustrating, mistake-ridden opening-day loss to Wake Forest, and it was followed later in the season by a loss to West Virginia.

The WVU game was one the Hokies had to have to prove they belonged in the Top 20, but they didn’t get it.

This year, Tech had to have an opening win over Wake Forest. A loss would have meant another 0-1 start, a dismissal of Tech as a Top 20 candidate in the minds of many who determine the national rankings, and, most damaging of all, agonizing doubt and frustration from within.

There are two big reasons for Tech fans to spell Saturday’s win: capital W, capital I, capital N.

First, it leaves the Hokies unblemished on paper, even though they had to come back against an eight-point underdog for a one-point win. It doesn’t matter how you win or lose the first game of the season. By the time bowl committees make their selections, they’ll see only the “W” on Tech’s first-week ledger.

A Hokie Huddler photo collage from the game against Wake, includes pictures of Mark Cox (top left), Jesse Penn (top middle), Bob Thomas (47), defensive coordinator Bob Brush (bottom middle) and kicker Don Wade (bottom right). (All photos by Eric Brady)

Second, the way the Hokies won will mean a boost in confidence of immeasurable proportions. With 6:45 on the clock and trailing by six, the Tech offense had two alternatives – drive 80 yards for a touchdown or lose. The Hokies didn’t luck out on a desperation bomb or an interference call or a broken play. They methodically, smartly drove down the field, converting first downs each time they had to have one.

Had the offense not come through, the nagging question might well have been, “Can we?” Because Tech scored when it had to and held on for the win, the theme for the beginning of this season is, “We can.”

And, oh, what a difference. The confidence that such a win can build was showing through even in the minutes immediately following the game:

Quarterback Mark Cox, who directed the flawless touchdown drive: “We knew what we could do, but we hadn’t been doing it. We were just hoping to have another chance.”

Offensive tackle Billy Leeson: “All of us were thinking about last year. But we knew we just had to go out and do it.”

Defensive end Jesse Penn: “We’re going to take this win and build on it.”

Building. That’s the difference between now and this time last year. Instead of trying to overcome a big negative before the second game, the Hokies can work to improve their technical flaws while building on the positive psychological influence of an opening-day win.

Tech can expect to get its share of criticism for being out-gained and nearly beaten by a team that went 4-7 last year. Forget it. When you’re playing a team that has beaten you the past two seasons, including the opening game of the previous season, and when that team is fielding perhaps its best team in recent years, and when you have a history of tying yourself up in knots on opening day, the lesson is obvious:

Take your win, count your blessings, and high tail it home with your season intact.