Sunday, September 26, 2004
A kick in the pants
Virginia Tech gains just 192 yards total and 36 yards rushing against North Carolina State's No. 1 defense.
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"We're really confident in Brandon Pace," Hokies linebacker Mikal Baaqee said. "We see him in practice and he's making 50-yarders, 60-yarders. So we all expected him to make the kick." When the ball left Pace's swinging right foot from the left-hash mark, the high-arching kick looked true on its proper destination, at least from the home sideline.
"To be honest, when the kick was up, we all thought it was good," Baaqee said.
A couple of seconds later, the officials parked under each of the south uprights delivered the bad news: "No good."
On a day when Tech's defense was the only one in its group to bring the goods, Pace's last-play misfire was the final kick in the rear for the Hokies in their first ACC football loss ever - an excruciating 17-16 decision to North Carolina State.
When it was over, Tech coach Frank Beamer walked off the field with a smirk on his face that could easily be translated as total disbelief.
"I talked to Brandon in the dressing room and he just said he left [the ball] out there," Beamer said. "When he hit it, I thought he made it, but I guess it just kept drifting on him."
According to the television replay, Pace's kick traveled about a foot wide of the right upright. Pace, who followed a miss of 33 yards with makes of 23, 32 and 37 yards before the final kick, refused requests to meet the media after the game.
Of course, Pace's miss was just one of the few believe-it-or-nots for Beamer and Tech (2-2, 1-1) this day.
That Ripley's-like list was topped by the total lockdown that State's ferocious defense threw on Tech's offense. The Hokies finished with 192 total yards - 157 of which came in the fourth quarter - and 36 yards rushing. The red-dogging Wolfpack sacked Tech quarterback Bryan Randall 10 times for 78 yards in losses. That's the most sacks the Hokies have permitted in a game since the category became part of the NCAA boxscore in 1989. The previous high was nine, by Florida State in 1989.
Tech's massive offensive line, which had more than held its own in the first three games, looked like it was involved in a three-hour-plus fire drill. State (2-1, 1-0) has blitzers coming up the middle and off the edges all day long, turning Randall into a veritable punching bag and making Tech's blockers look like turnstiles.
"I'm not not sure if they just outmanned us or if we just didn't get 'em blocked very well," Beamer said. "We got our quarterback beat up today. I never thought they would handle us that way."
State's defense certainly proved its No.1 national ranking to the Hokies. The Wolfpack's quick frontline and arsenal of linebackers lived in Tech's backfield long enough to pay personal property taxes.
"I don't know exactly where all of 'em were coming from," Tech center Will Montgomery said. "Most of the time we'd come back [to the huddle] and each man, like my left guard and right guard, we're like, 'what happened there?'"
Mike Imoh, who ran for 74 yards and averaged 5.3 yards a carry on a day that Tech's rushing attack averaged a pitiful .8 yards per rush, tipped his hat to the visitors.
"I haven't seen a defense come like that," Imoh said. "Wherever we were at, they had two or three of 'em around us."
Despite its anemic offense, Tech, led 10-3 after Randall hit fullback John Kinzer for 4-yard touchdown pass and Pace made a 32-yard field goal following a State fumble early in the second quarter.
After consecutive sacks of Randall forced Tech to punt from its 1-yard line, State drove 36 yards and tied the game on T.A. McLendon's 6-yard TD run just before halftime.
While Tech's offense was going nowhere in the third quarter - it had minus-14 yards on 17 plays - Hokies punter Vinnie Burns set up State's eventual winning score. Burns unbelievably - there's that word again - dropped a perfect snap and was buried at his own 5-yard line, leading to Marcus Stone's 1-yard plunge that put the 'Pack ahead 17-10.
"I can't even say I dropped the ball ... it just hit my hands and fell out," said Burns, still dazed at his rare gaffe.
Down 17-13 after Pace's 37-yarder with 8:10 left, the Hokies had one last gasp when they held and took over the ball on their 6 with 2:44 left. Randall marched his team and put it into position to win when he found David Clowney for a 38-yard pass completion to the State 26, which ultimately set up Pace's miss.
While the Hokies took a tough loss, Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato had his party line already going. The longtime Florida State assistant coach smiled and said: "I'm calling [Florida State coach Bobby] Bowden to tell him what it feels like to win on wide right."