Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Good night's sleep awaits subs

MIAMI -- The dream seemed so real.

There were the Cincinnati players, cloaked in black. There was line coach Curt Newsome on the sidelines, screaming profanities. There were his Virginia Tech teammates in the huddle, waiting to see if he could get the job done.

Just don't get cussed out tonight. That's what freshman offensive lineman Jaymes Brooks was thinking during Thursday's Orange Bowl. The emergency replacement for Nick Marshman had reason to fear that result, too. He'd seen it all so vividly already.

"This is a true story," Brooks recalled early Friday morning, after Tech knocked off Cincinnati 20-7 on Thursday for its first BCS bowl win since 1995. "Before the coaches told me about Marshman's situation, I had a dream a couple nights before that. We were playing Cincinnati. They had on their all-black uniforms. I stepped out on the D-end. I was supposed to go after the backer, and I didn't.

"I came to the sideline, and Coach Newsome cussed me out. That's a real story."

What did he say back to Newsome in the dream?

"Pshh," Brooks countered. "You can't say nothin' back to Coach Newsome. He might blow up even more."

Brooks smiled. Man, had it been a stressful couple of weeks.

In so many ways, Brooks symbolized the 2008 Hokies on Thursday night. His pregame anxiety represented the Hokies' past, his performance their present, his youth their future. A guy with four college snaps coming into the Orange Bowl was pushed onto the biggest stage of his life, with everyone questioning his credentials and watching his every move.

"I knew that was going to happen," Brooks said. "I expected the pressure. If something goes wrong, I'm probably going to get blamed for it. If we would have lost, I would have been a key, probably. People would have been writing that about me."

Hey, no worries, right?

"Yeah, no worries," Brooks said, laughing. "Just your first start in the Orange Bowl is all."


Youth in every direction. That was the story of these Hokies this year, wasn't it? The defense having to replace seven starters, the offense needing to fill gaping holes at receiver and tailback. Add it all up, and it was the most inexperienced team of the Beamer era.

But they found enough answers to win the ACC. Then they drew a winnable -- but by no means easy -- matchup in the bowl game against the upstart Big East champions.

Then, just to be sure the theme stayed consistent, more trouble arrived. Linebacker Brett Warren and defensive end Jason Worilds were lost for the bowl game because of injuries. And Marshman, a fixture at right guard, was ruled academically ineligible for the bowl.

Enter Barquell Rivers, Nekos Brown and Brooks, respectively.

OK, so we all knew Brown could play. He'd been in the rotation at defensive end all season. But Rivers? Brooks? Who the heck were they?

"I remember asking about two weeks ago, I said: 'Barquell, are you nervous, man?' " Tech senior cornerback Macho Harris said. "He's got a soft little voice and he said, 'Yeah, I'm a little nervous, I'm a little nervous.'

"I said: 'Look, don't worry about it. We've got your back. Don't worry about nothing. Basically, the coaches got you in short drops. We've got behind you. Don't worry about that.'"

And that senior presence -- that senior reassurance -- cannot be understated. There weren't many of them on this roster, but the ones who were here led like champions.

Defensive end Orion Martin closed his career with a sparkling, diving interception that set up a Tech score. Harris returned for his senior year and walked away with no regrets, after anchoring a defensive secondary that flummoxed Cincinnati's no-huddle attack.

And senior center Ryan Shuman played a role, too. Not just with his blocking.

"Shuman chewed me out a couple times," Brooks said, smiling.


But the bottom line is they did it. All of them, including the newbies.

Brown was part of an aggressive defensive front that allowed just 71 rushing yards. Rivers delivered one of the biggest plays of the game, drilling Bearcats QB Tony Pike as he tried to score on fourth-and-goal from the Tech 1 midway through the fourth quarter.

And Brooks? He was a critical party to the story of the game.

The Hokies ran the ball effectively all night and owned time of possession by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Tailback Darren Evans rushed for 153 yards and was named MVP of the game.

His lone touchdown was run to the right side.

Brooks' side.

"There really was no drop-off," Evans said of the O-line replacement. "No drop-off at all.

"The times I ran behind him, he had his man."

As Brooks came to the sidelines near the end of the game, he thought about the dream. He looked at Newsome.

The coach was not cussing this time.

"I love you, buddy!" Newsome said.

Ah, dreams. Sometimes it's best when they don't come true and do come true, all at the same time.

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