Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tech takes UVa's best shot, then crushes rivals

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- They still have fun with this. All of them.

The Virginia Tech players, who hold the Commonwealth Cup in the huddle like it's their birth right, which it might as well be now.

The Tech coaches, who no matter how many missteps they might have along the way, always seem to be at their best come Thanksgiving week.

The Tech fans, who traveled to Scott Stadium en masse on Saturday and chanted "Keep Al Groh!" as the final minutes of a 42-13 victory over Virginia ticked off the clock.

That's six straight wins in the series for the Hokies. Drama-seekers yawn yet again.

But these guys? They know drama is for suckers. That's why they play this rivalry game like they want to extend the streak to 20.

And the way these programs look right now, nobody should bet against it.

Every year, it seems, Tech-UVa week plays out the same. The days leading up to the game, the Cavaliers dominate the storylines. They're the ones with something to prove. Can they keep it close? Can they put it together for one day? Can they perhaps pull the upset?

Then they play the game, and the answers spill forth in capital letters: NO. NO. NO.

"I look forward to this game every year," Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor said.

Like a child on Christmas eve.

As has been the trend in recent years, the Hokies are peaking at season's end. Taylor is at the center of it all. Last week against N.C. State, he played a leisurely game of catch with Jarrett Boykin. This week, Danny Coale became his top target. The trust he shows in this receiving corps in undeniable, and he's repeatedly used his scrambling ability to keep plays alive.

Taylor's passing, coupled with another huge day from tailback Ryan Williams (24 carries, 183 yards, four touchdowns), led to a 483-yard day for the offense. During their past four games, the Hokies have averaged 436 yards per game to climb up the offensive rankings.

"They're really playing their tails off," Tech linebacker Cody Grimm said of the offensive players. "Whenever they play like that, defensively you know the game can be put out of reach in any series.

"When we came out in the second half and scored our first touchdown, we were like, we've got to get them the ball back. All of a sudden this game is a 15-point game. It puts a lot more motivation for you to get back on the field and give it back to our offense so they can drive down and do what they've been doing."

Rivalry games aren't supposed to be this easy, and Tech's players insist that this one wasn't. Williams, a redshirt freshman, said he realized the intensity of this series when he looked out the window of the bus and saw all the single-finger salutes from tailgaters.

Once the game started, trash talking abounded. Tech free safety Kam Chancellor said that UVa receiver Kris Burd kept telling him it was going to be a long game.

"I know," Chancellor remembers replying, "it's going to be a long game ... for you."

Turns out Chancellor was right. But at halftime, when Tech led just 14-13, it was hard to be sure.

"They thought they were going to win, and they played like it," Grimm said of the Cavaliers. "We just stuck with our basics and basically wore them down."

The Cavaliers were reduced to another off-season of what-ifs. Groh turned to poetry to soothe his battered soul, reading "The Man in the Glass" in the postgame interview room. The players tried to take comfort in their effort.

"We gave everything we had," UVa running back Mikell Simpson said. "Everything."

And it wasn't enough. Again. The Hokies can be proud of that fact in particular. They faced a team with so much to gain emotionally, so much desire to win, and they rendered it all moot.

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