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December 10, 2010

CROWNING GLORY - Behind Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech claims its fourth ACC title in the past seven years

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tyrod Taylor and Jarrett Boykin celebrate a touchdown at the ACC Championship game.

Sitting on a stage in an interview room in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium, Tech head coach Frank Beamer, with marvelous quarterback Tyrod Taylor and sturdy defensive tackle John Graves, displayed a jovial spirit and rightly so following his team’s 44-33 dismantling of Florida State’s Seminoles in the ACC title game.

“You’re 2-3 against them, right?” Beamer queried his signal caller, meaning, of course, to say that he had won two of three against the Seminoles

Taylor, though, understood. He nodded.

“That’s better than anyone else at Virginia Tech against them,” Beamer smiled. “He’s got the best record against Florida State. All the rest of us have too many losses.”

Beamer was referencing his own 1-8 record to Florida State coming into the game, though in fairness, he succumbed to legendary Bobby Bowden and coached against the likes of Deion Sanders, Charlie Ward and many others. While FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s bunch is good, they certainly pale to those star-studded groups.

It showed on Bank of America’s frosty surface, as the Seminoles struggled all evening to contain the elusive Taylor, the ACC’s player of the year who truly puts the “dual” in dual-threat quarterback. The senior from Hampton, Va., completed 18-of-28 for 263 yards and three touchdowns in what many termed his finest performance. He also rushed for a touchdown, thus accounting for four of the Hokies’ six scores.

It wasn’t so much that he accomplished it. It was how.

He dodged blitzes. He broke tackles. His 12-yard scramble in the third quarter ranks as one of his best. He should have been sacked, but slithered past five FSU defenders and slammed teammate Danny Coale in the back before running out of bounds.

“My feet just took over. Sometimes, I don’t even know where I’m going,” Taylor smiled. “I know Danny’s probably mad I ran into him at the end of the play, but that wasn’t on purpose. I was stumbling and didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Taylor also made the right checks and calls at the line of scrimmage. One time in the first half, Taylor had the option of throwing the bubble screen to Coale or hand it off to Darren Evans, depending on what FSU’s outside linebacker did. Taylor astutely handed off to Evans, who barreled 51 yards to the FSU 9. Evans then scored on the next play.

Taylor threw with precision and touch, undeniably answering those who questioned his passing skills.

There was the 19-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin in the first half in which Taylor spun away from a blitzing FSU safety. Then he rolled to his left, squared his shoulders and delivered a bullet to Boykin.

Then there was the 21-yard scoring strike to David Wilson in the third quarter that gave Tech a 28-17 lead. Taylor took two steps back to buy some precious time, and then he lofted a beautiful lob to Wilson, who took it to the end zone.

Danny Coale had his best game yet as a Hokie, catching six passes for 143 yards in Tech’s win over FSU.

Then there was the “easy.” He made an easy, backyard toss to a wide-open Coale coming across the middle. Coale went 45 yards to the end zone on Tech’s first possession of the second half, starting a scoring onslaught that saw the Hokies put points on the board on their first four second-half possessions.

Tech went to that same play later in the second half. Taylor again found Coale across the middle, and Coale took it inside the FSU 10. Taylor took care of the rest himself.

Again, scrambling, he made two FSU defenders grasp at air, cut inside of them and walked – literally – into a championship. That 5-yard score put the Hokies up 41-26 with under 10 minutes left and started the celebration.

“I’ve played with him four years and it doesn’t surprise me,” said Coale, the beneficiary of most of Taylor’s throws with a career-high 143 yards receiving. “I’ve seen his talents and everybody else has gotten to see what he can do.”

“We’ve been fortunate to have some great quarterbacks at Virginia Tech, and Tyrod is right there,” Beamer said. “You knew he was going to do the right thing with the ball, and you knew he was going to make good decisions. You think this next play may be a big one, and that’s a great feeling to have over there on the sideline.”

Tech’s defense tried to earn some pub. The Hokies intercepted two EJ Manuel passes, one each by Davon Morgan and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, who returned his 24 yards for Tech’s first touchdown of the game. They held FSU to just 136 yards in the second half – 75 coming on the final drive of the game with the outcome decided.

But Taylor was the story on this night and the game’s MVP, his second such honor. His three touchdown passes gave him 23 on the season and helped him set the Tech single-season record (Maurice DeShazo, 22, 1994). He tied the championship game record for touchdown passes, a mark held by former Tech quarterback Sean Glennon, (BC in 2007), and Taylor’s passing efficiency rating of 178.54 also was a championship game record, again snapping a Glennon mark (150.1).

“It’s a great way to finish a senior season,” Taylor said. “I’m really proud of the way we turned things around. To come back from an 0-2 start, as a senior, it feels good to go out with a win like this.”

The win marked Tech’s 11th straight since the Hokies opened the season 0-2 following losses to Boise State and James Madison in a six-day span. The title marked Tech’s fourth ACC championship overall and its third in the title game. The Hokies won the crown in their inaugural season in the league (2004) and then have won it in title games in 2007, 2008 and this season.

“I still feel like it would be a letdown to do all this and lose the last game,” Taylor said.

Tech will be taking on Stanford in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3 and a win there would make Taylor 3-1 in bowl games as a starting quarterback.

No need to tell Beamer of that particular mark. Rest assured, he knows that one, too.