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January 17, 2012

OT Heartbreak

By: Jimmy Robertson

Sugar Bowl not sweet for Hokies, who fall to Michigan 23-20 in overtime

The Virginia Tech football team wanted to end its 2011 season on a sweet note following its invitation to the Sugar Bowl.

But after a wild, zany affair against Michigan in a city known for such shenanigans, the Hokies were left feeling rather bitter.

Tech rallied twice and forced overtime against the Wolverines, but a controversial ruling by the officiating crew and a missed field goal gave Michigan an opportunity, and the Wolverines capitalized. Kicker Brendan Gibbons booted a game-winning 37-yard field goal in the extra period to give Michigan a 23-20 victory over the Hokies at the Superdome.

With the loss, Tech’s 2011 campaign ended with an 11-3 mark, as the Hokies fell to 8-11 in bowl games under head coach Frank Beamer.

“I’m about half sick right now,” Beamer said following the game. “But I’m as proud as I can be of our players and the way they battled back and what we are as a football team. It wasn’t lack of effort or lack of preparation. Our guys played their hearts out. So I feel better walking out of here tonight than I did against Stanford [in last year’s Orange Bowl].”

No one was feeling particularly great about a Pac-12 officiating crew that nullified a Tech touchdown on the Hokies’ first possession of overtime. On third-and-5 from the Michigan 20, Tech quarterback Logan Thomas appeared to have thrown a touchdown pass to receiver Danny Coale in the corner of the end zone. Officials originally ruled the play a touchdown, but the replay crew reviewed it and reversed the call, saying Coale didn’t maintain control of the ball.

“I thought it would have been hard to overturn, but they [the replay crew] saw something that I didn’t see, obviously, in that review,“ Coale said. “I thought I had it in there, but I guess I didn’t.”

“A couple of close calls,” Beamer said. “Probably the difference in the game.”

The reversal forced Tech to attempt a field goal, and Justin Myer, subbing for suspended starting kicker Cody Journell, pushed a 37-yard attempt wide right. That meant Michigan only needed a field goal to win.

The Wolverines (11-2) ran the ball three straight times to set up Gibbons’ attempt. He nailed it, giving Michigan the victory.

It marked a heartbreaking end for Myer, who valiantly stepped into the starting role despite having attempted just two collegiate kicks in his five years at Tech. Yet he kept the Hokies in the game, making a Tech bowl record four field goals, including one with two seconds remaining in regulation to tie things at 20 and send the game into overtime.

“I feel like I did a good job, especially for not kicking many field goals here [at Tech],” Myer said. “If it wasn’t for that last one, I’d be really pleased with how I kicked.”

It also marked a heartbreaking end to a game in which the Hokies dominated statistically. They finished with 377 yards of offense and held the Wolverines to just 184. More impressively, Tech’s defense – outstanding all night – kept elusive Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson under wraps. Robinson rushed for just 13 yards and completed only 9 of 21 attempts, though he did throw two touchdown passes compared to one interception.

In the end, Tech hurt itself with costly penalties (seven for 68 yards, including a roughing-the-punter call that kept alive a Michigan touchdown drive) and turnovers (two Tech turnovers led to 10 Michigan points). The Hokies also hurt themselves with poor execution, coming up short on fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 4 in the second quarter, and also coming up short on a fake punt late in the game that gave the Wolverines great field position. That one ultimately led to a Gibbons field goal to give Michigan a 20-17 lead with four minutes left in the game.

“I was given the option,” said Coale, who again doubled as Tech’s punter. “If there was an opening, I could run. If there was pressure, I could punt it. I should have punted it. I thought I could get one yard. I saw an opening, but it closed quickly. I should have punted it, and that was my fault.”

Still, the Hokies showed resiliency, coming back to tie the game twice. Trailing 17-6, Tech got a field goal from Myer with 4:48 left in the third and a 1-yard touchdown run from Thomas with 10:22 left in the game. Thomas’ pass to Marcus Davis gave the Hokies the needed two points to tie the game at 17.

Then, after Michigan took the 20-17 lead, the Hokies went on a tremendous 83-yard march that led to Myer’s game-tying 25-yard field goal with two seconds left in regulation.

Offensively, Thomas completed 19 of 28 for 214 yards, with an interception. Coale caught eight passes for 117 yards, and David Wilson rushed for 82 yards on 24 carries.

But in the end, it just wasn’t quite enough.

“It’s very difficult to go out this way,” Tech free safety Eddie Whitley said. “It’s my senior year, and we lose by three points to a team that, I think, didn’t deserve that win. We beat ourselves. The ball didn’t roll our way. We had two interceptions called back. They had some lucky balls thrown in the air and snagged them.

“I don’t feel like they deserved that win. But hey, they won. So congratulate them.”

Sugar Bowl Notebook

• David Wilson broke the Tech single-season rushing mark following his 82-yard performance against Michigan. That gave him 1,709 yards for the season. His 11-yard run on his second carry of the third quarter enabled him to surpass Ryan Williams’ mark of 1,655 yards set in 2009.

• With 267 total yards against Michigan, Logan Thomas set the Tech single-season record for total offense (3,482 yards). He broke Tyrod Taylor’s mark of 3,402 yards last season.

• Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale close their careers in strong fashion. Coale caught eight passes for 117 yards, while Boykin caught four passes for 30 yards. Coale caught at least two in 45 of his 55 career games, while Boykin hauled in at least two passes in 44 of the 54 games he played in his career.

• Justin Myer set a Tech bowl record by hitting four field goals connecting on attempts of 37, 43, 36 and 25 yards, with the 43-yarder being a season long by a Tech kicker. Myer’s four field goals broke the previous bowl mark of three set by Matt Waldron in the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Tennessee.

• Detrick Bonner, a cornerback, made his fourth start of the season as Tech opened with its nickel defense. Receivers Marcus Davis and D.J. Coles also started, with Davis making his eighth start and Coles making his third. The Hokies’ offense opened in a four-receiver set.

• Kyle Fuller’s first-quarter interception marked his second of the season and the second of his career. He also recorded an interception in the Hokies’ win over East Carolina earlier in the season.