Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Reserves step up against Miami

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- They won it with stars, because you have to have stars to win here.

You have to have NFL-caliber runners like Ryan Williams to break off the 84-yarders.

You have to have potential ACC player-of-the-year honorees like Tyrod Taylor at the controls.

You have to pack Danny Coale's hands and Jayron Hosley's instincts and Davon Morgan's physical play when you face Miami, just to give yourself a chance.

But Virginia Tech couldn't stitch together Saturday's 31-17 victory without the other guys. The Hokies could not win their ninth straight and clinch the Coastal Division without a raft of opportunistic backups delivering game-altering plays.

Lost in a talent-laden scoring summary are lesser-known guys who helped facilitate it. There was true freshman Derrick Hopkins, recovering a fumble on his first snap of the game at defensive tackle.

Before Coale's perfectly executed touchdown grab that broke a 10-10 tie, there was Xavier Boyce making just his second reception of the year -- a 6-yarder on third-and-5.

Before Taylor made his signature dash to the end zone to crush the last of Miami's resolve, there was fullback Kenny Younger -- best known for his blocking -- catching a 5-yard pass on third-and-3.

"That's a hot read," Taylor said. "If he's not paying attention, then we don't get the first down."

And maybe they don't get the win. Fortunately for the Hokies, they didn't have to find out.

For nine straight games, they haven't had to find out.

"I think there's something really special about this group," Tech coach Frank Beamer said, and that's what it is. They mesh. They lean. They trust. They produce. Even on days such as Saturday, when the defense was leaky and two starters (Rashad Carmichael and Marcus Davis) left the game with injuries in the first half, the Hokies wriggled through that window to Charlotte, N.C.


"We're a family, man," Morgan said. "That's what it says. We're a real family. We preach that week in and week out: Stick together, depend on your brother. You never know when your opportunity's going to come. When it comes, are you going to make the best of it?

"We just try to instill that in everybody's head. Imagine yourself out there making these plays. And then when you get out there in the game, man, it's easy."

The best example of that was Logan Thomas. The redshirt freshman backup quarterback could not have been overly confident that he would get in the game this week. But when Taylor trudged to the sidelines with 3:12 left in the first quarter, short of breath following another violent hit, Thomas got the call.

Two warm-up tosses. That's all he threw. But with Tech facing a third-and-16, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring ordered a deep pass.

"I was kind of surprised he actually called that," Thomas said.

Taylor wasn't.

"The coaches had confidence in him with the play they called," he said. "I knew he could get the job done, or I wouldn't have come off the field."

Thomas found Coale for a 24-yard connection and a first down. One play later, Taylor was back in the game. Two plays later, Williams was in the end zone, tying the game at 7.

"That's kind of how this team has gone," Beamer said.

When it ended, Williams led a Cal Ripken-style victory lap to celebrate with lingering Tech fans. Taylor signed a No. 5 jersey for a youngster. A sizeable group of supporters shouted the names of the stars.

But then came the rest of them -- the second stringers, the special teams guys, the one-hit wonders. Fans slapped those hands, too, and they should have.

The bus wouldn't be pointed toward Charlotte without them.

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