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November 10, 2010

Fifteen years later and Holmes' historic catch still a topic of conversation

By: Jimmy Robertson

Jermaine Holmes made one of the biggest plays in Tech history when he hauled in this touchdown catch in the final minute to help the Hokies rally past UVa.

He wasn’t named to any All-America squads. For that matter, he never even earned all-conference honors. He was just a good, solid football player, like the many who have come through Tech’s football program over the years.

The difference is that Jermaine Holmes made arguably the biggest play in Virginia Tech’s football history.

This November – Nov. 18 to be exact – marks the 15th anniversary of that memorable day in Charlottesville when the Hokies rallied from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit to knock off in-state rival Virginia. At the time – and until this year’s 17-point rally over N.C. State – it marked the biggest comeback of Frank Beamer’s tenure.

Holmes, a non-descript receiver from Florida, etched his name in Tech lore when he hauled in the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to go.

“I hear it all the time,” said Holmes, who now heads up Tech’s Student-Athlete Academic Support Services. “I would say I hear about it more than I ever would have thought. Being in this community and on this campus … I’ll be somewhere and talking to someone and they’ll recognize my name and say ‘Hey, I remember that catch.’

“I never would have thought that it would be such a big thing 15 years later. But people are still talking about it.”

Let’s review the scene. Tech had lost its first two games of the season, but responded by winning eight straight and entered the game ranked No. 20, while Virginia came in at No. 13.

Virginia out-gained the Hokies 420-319 and picked off three Jim Druckenmiller passes. The Cavaliers throttled Tech’s rushing attack (79 yards) and led 29-14 going into the fourth quarter.

But the Hokies rallied and cut the lead to 29-23, and after Virginia kicker Rafael Garcia missed a 46-yarder with 2:12 left, the Hokies took over at their 29, albeit with no timeouts.

“I don’t think any of us thought we couldn’t do it,” Holmes said. “It was just a matter of when it was going to happen. We had a touchdown before that on a quick screen and we started making some plays. The defense started making some plays, and then, we’re at that moment.”

Druckenmiller guided the Hokies to the Virginia 32. On first down, offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle called for a play that the Hokies had hardly used at all during the season. Holmes, who had switched with Cornelius White a couple of plays earlier, faked and Druckenmiller pumped. Holmes got behind UVa safety Percy Ellsworth, and Druckenmiller let it fly.

“When Jim threw the ball, I was like, ‘Man, he overthrew me,’” Holmes said. “I wasn’t worried about dropping it. I was worried about getting to it.”

Holmes caught it with 47 seconds to go. Atle Larsen’s extra point gave the Hokies their first lead of the game, 30-29.

The ending turned out to be bizarre. Virginia tried to mount a drive and got into Tech territory. But Antonio Banks intercepted Mike Groh’s pass and sprinted toward the end zone as time ran out – dodging the leg of UVa trainer Joe Gieck, who tried to trip Banks, along the way.

The impact of Tech’s victory can’t be understated. The Hokies, who had already clinched the Big East title, secured the school’s first Alliance Bowl berth, receiving an invitation from the Sugar Bowl to play Texas. Tech rallied in that one as well, coming from 10 down to beat the Longhorns and cap, at the time, the most memorable season in school history.

That, in turn, started a tradition of winning seasons and big bowl appearances. The Hokies have appeared in three Orange Bowls and two more Sugar Bowls since then and played for the national championship in 1999. Those games have propelled Tech into the nation’s elite.

“The thing that makes that game [UVa] so special is what it allowed us to do,” Holmes said. “It established us as a team to be reckoned with and enabled us to get a Sugar Bowl bid.

“For us to go and beat Texas magnifies that game [the UVa game] even more. It set the stage for us to be a big-time national team. The UVa game was the catalyst for all that.”

For sure, Holmes helped start the tradition with “The Catch against the Cavaliers.” It changed a program’s direction – and changed his life.

“It’s kind of like you’re a Virginia Tech hero for that particular situation,” he said. “I’ve been very humbled by that experience and people’s memory of that. I really have. It’s a good feeling.”