Friday, November 09, 2012
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Virginia Tech's nightmare season

BLACKSBURG -- It's official now. This is the season that shows no mercy, the one that hands out no parting gifts.

Instead, it is the boot camp drill sergeant, breaking Virginia Tech down in new and inventive ways.

Cold, all the way around.

No. 8 Florida State leaves here with respect for this Tech team, admiration for its noisy crowd. But more importantly, the Seminoles leave here with a 28-22 victory - one that keeps them in command of the ACC's Atlantic Division and keeps the Hokies staggering through a 2012 nightmare.

Almost every element Tech needed for an upset, Tech got. The Hokies sacked EJ Manuel five times. They registered a dozen tackles for loss. They recovered a fumble; they got an interception; they even had a safety, for Pete's sake.

They took the lead with 2:19 left on a field goal, then gave it back a minute and a half later on 39-yard touchdown pass from Manuel to Rashad Greene that turned Lane Stadium into Virginia's largest library.

Cold, all the way around.

Quarterback Logan Thomas showed both his great gifts and his nagging vulnerability. He hit Marcus Davis on a deep pass early that provided the first modicum of hope that this game could be different. He threw a perfect touchdown pass to Corey Fuller - the man who tallied 124 receiving yards two days after seeing an upset in his mind's eye - to give the Hokies their first lead, showing the kind of touch that NFL scouts would love.

Thomas powered his way into the end zone on a 5-yard run in the third quarter after FSU had threatened to pull away.

That was the good. The bad was the two interceptions - one that led to a Florida State field goal, and the other that ended the game.

Defensively, the Hokies had the right idea from the start. They were going to send whatever they could at Manuel, try to disrupt his rhythm, and take the chance that the secondary could hold up just long enough.

For most of the game, it did. When island-dwelling Tech defenders sensed they were beat, they wisely used whatever means necessary to deny the catch, aware that a pass-interference penalty in college is far less punitive than watching these FSU athletes sprint away.

In the end, though, Greene did sprint away, catching a crossing pass from left to right and finding space toward the sidelines. Tech safety Detrick Bonner had the last shot at him and made a diving attempt. He wound up sprawled on the sideline as Greene broke the plane.

Disheartening? Frustrating? Gut-wrenching? Yes, yes and yes. But completely unexpected? No. The tension never left this place. These fans had seen enough 2012 Tech football to know how this could end.

For once, the Hokies indeed wound up "one or two plays away," that phrase Frank Beamer's used so often, the one that had seemed laughable as Tech has suffered double-digit losses while getting severely outplayed. Prime candidates for the one or two plays that could have made the difference:

nThe field goal Cody Journell missed wide left early in the second quarter. In a game so tight, who knows how those three points could have changed the strategy? That came after Josh Trimble had recovered a muffed punt and given the ball at the FSU 30 -- the kind of gift certificate that must be cashed in to pull off an upset like this.

nThat 25-yard touchdown pass from Manuel to Greene just before halftime, which sapped the momentum Tech had gained through much of the first two quarters.

nThat fumble by Marcus Davis after Tech had driven to midfield. The Seminoles rode that field position to a touchdown.

nThat 1-yard run by Thomas on third-and-3 from the FSU 6 in the fourth quarter. The Hokies got the go-ahead field goal from Journell, but six there would have been huge.

There are others, but you get the idea. Another year, all of those what-ifs probably fade away. Tech wins the game, the defense is celebrated for holding a top-10 team almost 200 yards under its season average, and the offense is vindicated by coming through when it matters most.

Another year. Just not this one.

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