Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Come-from-behind win leaves Hokies giddy

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Did you turn it off?

Maybe toss the remote, curse a few coaches and flee the living room to find some fresh air?

Don't be ashamed if you did. If the Virginia Tech players had been in your position Saturday, some of them might have joined you.

"It was ugly at first," Tech running back Kenny Lewis Jr. said, which is a little like saying glue is sticky and nachos are delicious. "But with me being a big Virginia Tech fan, I might have kept watching it [while turning the channels] back and forth, back and forth."

Linebacker Purnell Sturdivant wouldn't have even done that. With the Hokies trailing North Carolina 17-3 midway through the third quarter, looking confused on offense and tired on defense, it would have been the "off" button for him.

"Probably would have," Sturdivant said with a smile. "I probably would have said, 'Aww, North Carolina's gonna win that game.'"

He paused.

"But luckily, we didn't turn it off as a team," he said. "We just kept it on. Kept pushing. Kept fighting."

Kept trying.

And when it was over, when the Hokies had somehow rallied for one of the most improbable wins in the Frank Beamer era, assistant coach Jim Cavanaugh skipped down the wooded path from the press box like a man half his age, high-fiving Tech fans as he passed. The Tech band lingered in the stands at Keenan Stadium, cranking out "The Hokie Pokey" and "Celebration" and the theme from "Superman," reluctant to pack their tubas till the final festive note was played.

And Beamer?

Well, Beamer danced.

"Oh, my gosh. I've never seen Coach Beamer like that before," said senior kicker Dustin Keys, whose 45-yard boot with 10:42 remaining provided the winning margin in Tech second straight 20-17 win. "I've never seen Coach loosen up as much as he has.

"He said the bus was going to be rocking all the way back to Blacksburg."

Oh, it no doubt did. And by the time they finished the 212-hour journey, perhaps they came to grips with how they did it -- because in the afterglow of this one, the details were a blur.

They'll want to forget much of this one anyway. The game's first 37 minutes were a clinic on how to fail at football: Burn timeouts because you don't know how to line up properly, pass the ball into double coverage, overextend your defense by sustaining zero drives.

"We never claimed to be pretty," Beamer said, and nobody else would claim that, either.

But the Hokies finished with a beach worth of grit. It started with a nice pitch-and-catch from Tyrod Taylor to Dyrell Roberts on third-and-7 deep in their own territory. It got a boost from a couple of gift penalties. It grew stronger when Darren Evans carved his way through the middle for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 17-10.

Then a fumble caused by Orion Martin, recovered by Davon Morgan. The big break. Suddenly, Tech became the aggressor.

"Once we see the defense make a great play, we know we can't keep them on the field," Lewis said. "They were on the field pretty much the whole first half, it seemed like."

Not this time. Lewis capped a five-play touchdown drive, the reinvigorated defense forced a three-and-out, and Tech took over for the decisive march.

And all the while, two major things happened here. One: Tech's coaches showed they could make adjustments, and the players showed they could respond to them.

That hasn't always been a Tech strength. The Hokies simply don't win games like this -- not many run-first teams do, by the way -- but the fact that they did this time will do wonders when the next deficit arises.

And two: After they took the lead, when the Hokies had to run the ball when the Tar Heels knew it was coming, they did it. That's a credit to a determined Evans and an offensive line that was pushing the pile as the game wore on.

"We've been waiting for that, now," Beamer said of the smash-mouth success.

They got it. And even if some televisions had long since gone dark, it turned out to be an afternoon worth celebrating.

"Well, the boys like my dancin,'" Beamer said, when asked about the postgame scene. "I just got warmed up on 'em tonight. If we go to Nebraska and get one, I'm gonna put on a show out there."

Stay tuned.

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