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January 11, 2011

January 6, 1987 - Hokies' Peach Bowl win 'greatest ever'

By: Jimmy Robertson

By Chris Colston

(Reprinted from Vol. 4, No. 17 edition of the Hokie Huddler)

Amid a raucous Virginia Tech locker room on the last day of 1986, Carter Wiley said it all.

“This isn’t the biggest win in the history of Virginia Tech football,” he said. “It’s the greatest moment in the history of Virginia Tech athletics.”

Wiley could be excused if he was a bit euphoric, but he was right on target. With all due respect to the 1973 Hokie basketball team’s NIT championship, the riveting 25-24 win over N.C. State in the 1986 New Peach Bowl must rank first in importance and excitement.

Tech had never won a bowl game in five previous tries. But this year, the Hokies were on a self-proclaimed “mission” to send head coach Bill Dooley out as a winner.

Dooley, of course, was coaching his last game for Tech. If someone wanted to find a good idea for a book, they would have to look no further than Blacksburg: the Peach Bowl finale was a fitting close to a season that might as well have been written by the Brothers Grimm.

The Hokies rebounded from a grim beginning – an excruciating last-minute loss to Cincinnati – to whip Clemson in Death Valley. Then came the Dooley lawsuit. Tech lost its coach, but gained a huge motivational advantage. It would lose only once more the rest of the season.

Fittingly, now legendary placekicker Chris Kinzer once again, under stressful conditions, provided the winning margin. Only this time, instead of simply keeping the Hokies in the bowl picture – his last-second 49-yard kick against Kentucky did earlier in the year – it meant a much-coveted bowl victory.

His 40-yard kick sailed perfectly between the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium uprights with no time left. The stadium exploded; the Hokies won; and Kinzer ran.

“I remember what happened to me against Kentucky,” he said. “I didn’t want to get suffocated under a pile of maniacs, so I got the h--- out of dodge.”

As climactic as the kick was, a fourth-and-3 pass from Erik Chapman to tight end Steve Johnson with 15 seconds left was probably the biggest play of the game, if not the season.

Chapman looked to Dooley for instructions and Dooley pointed to him. “You call the play,” he ordered. There would be no 54-yard field-goal attempt.

That was in Kinzer’s range, but Tech wanted to get closer, and did so when Chapman fired a nine-yard sideline pass to Johnson. “Quick Orange 48,” he said. “It’s just a quick out. It worked every time. They were playing eight yards off me.”

Now just 45 yards away for Kinzer, Dooley decided to get his kicker a little closer. But on the next play, Tech was whistled for holding. The 10-yard penalty moved the ball back to the 38, and probably out of Kinzer’s range.

Chapman countered with a pass to wingback David Everett down the left sideline. The ball was there, but reserve State safety Brian Gay jostled him at the 2-yard line. Penalty: pass interference. Sudden rebirth for the Hokies.

“Oh, no doubt about it,” Everett said. “If he doesn’t grab me, I score the winning touchdown.”

Gay hedged a bit about the call. “I thought I made a good play,” he said. “But it happened so quick. I may have brushed him.”

The 15-yard call moved the ball well into Kinzer’s range now. A long wait on the field – the Wolfpack called a timeout to try and rattle him – had no effect on Kinzer. He simply knelt down on one knee and waited.

“I looked over at Coach Dooley, and he looked at me,” Kinzer said. “I just winked at him and said, ‘No problem.’ He winked back at me and smiled.”

The N.C. State defense not only had put pressure on Chapman most of the day, but also had intercepted him twice, both times setting up Erik Kramer touchdown passes.

Those scores, and a blocked punt by Derrick Taylor that Brian Bulluck recovered in the end zone, gave the Wolfpack a 21-10 halftime lead. “It looked bad,” Wiley said. “We looked to the coaches. It’s up to them to come up with something in times like that.

“Then Coach Dooley gave us the same pep talk he gave us at halftime of last year’s UVa game. He said to go out and just do the job. ‘If you do that,’ he said. ‘You’re going to win.’ That was an emotional zipper.”

Dooley probably felt like he had to do something after foregoing a sure 35-yard field goal with 47 seconds left in the first half. Instead, he opted to go for the first down on fourth-and-5. “If I could do it over again, I would have kicked the field goal,” he said after the game. “Thank goodness I have the kind of ballplayers who can make up for my mistakes.”

And the kind of ballplayers who wanted to send their coach out a winner. After his brother, Georgia head coach Vince, had come into the locker room to offer his congratulations, Dooley allowed a smile.

“We accomplished something that had never been done in school history,” he said. “It’s a very sweet win.”