Every year around the last weekend of November, we gather with our family members, the ones we’ve known all our life, put aside our differences for a night and remember why we love each other. We don’t care that Uncle Dave hasn’t been sober in months, or that Grandpa repeats the same story three times in 20 minutes, or that your teenage sister is pregnant. No matter what’s happened in the last year, for one night we think about the good times.
That’s what Virginia Tech did Friday night. When virtually everything that could go wrong this season did, the Hokies mustered every last ounce of pride we didn’t even know they had to beat Virginia 24-20.
This was supposed to be their funeral, and last week’s double-overtime, fist-pumping loss was supposed to be the Wake. Virginia hadn’t beaten us in 10 years, yet they walked into Lane Stadium for a night game as two-point favorites. Two days before the game, the school announced Mike London would return next season regardless of what happened on Friday night. The Cavaliers not only had a chance to end a 10-game losing streak to their most hated rivals, but they could also end their season without a bowl game for the first time in 22 years. If there was ever a year for the Wahoos to get it done, this was it.
They knew it too. Minutes before kickoff, the Cavs helped incite a war of words at midfield that very-nearly-but-probably-never-would-have turned into a brawl. The little brothers of the state started chirping a little too early. When you haven’t beaten a team since before there was YouTube, you should probably wait until after the game to start popping off at the mouth – on their turf, no less.
Maybe that scuffle was what the Hokies needed. Maybe. It makes for a good narrative at least, but whatever incited Tech to will itself to victory Friday night was a force we hadn’t seen since a warm September night in Ohio. Who knows…funny things happen on Thanksgiving.
The defense was menacing as always. The offense sputtered. The special teams shined.
With Virginia punting from underneath its own uprights, Frank Beamer knew this might be his best chance of finding the end zone all night. He dialed up a rush, and C.J. Reavis swatted away the Cavalier punt with ease. Bucky Hodges pounced on it for the score. For a fleeting moment Beamer Ball, M.I.A for arguably years, returned. Funny things happen on Thanksgiving.
Brendan Motley sparked the offense, but a sprained toe and a concussion ultimately ended his night by halftime. The Hokies were going to ride or die with Michael Brewer. By the middle of the third quarter, the Cavaliers had pasted Brewer to the turf so many times it was only a matter of minutes before he wouldn’t get up. Yet somehow, the redshirt junior showed his Texas grit and rebounded for two of his best drives in a Tech uniform. A 36-yard touchdown pass to Cam Phillips gave Tech a 17-13 lead, and after Virginia regained the lead in the fourth quarter, Brewer engineered a three-play, 75 yard drive capped by a Hodges nine-yard touchdown that kept the Commonwealth Cup in Blacksburg. Funny things happen on Thanksgiving.
There will be changes to the program after the bowl season – major ones. Even during this debacle of a season, no one doubted that 2015 was shaping up to be the year of redemption. Guess how many seniors scored a touchdown this season? Zero. Every major contributor on offense is back, along with many key defensive starters. If there’s a silver lining to the attrition on the defensive side of the ball this season, it’s that several young players earned valuable experience that will help them hit the ground running next year.
So the Hokies are going bowling and for one weekend, we can forget about all the bad things. Who cares that the offense is ranked worse than 90th in pretty much every important category? Who cares about the internal turmoil that led to two valued members of the program suspiciously quitting mid-season? Who cares that 13 major contributors have missed significant time with injury? Who cares that for the third straight season, Lane Stadium has gone from the Terror Dome to the Kiddie Dome?
It doesn’t matter. This is our state, and no matter how much Virginia cries, swears and yells about it, that isn’t changing. Even at our worst, we don’t lose to those cookie-dough eating, Zima-drinking, lawn-streaking wussies up the road.
There will be plenty of time to lament the missteps of 2014 and dream of greener pastures to come. But for one night, the Hokies were able to put aside their differences and remind us why we love them. No matter what’s happened in the last year, Friday night reminded us of all the good times. We still own Virginia. Even the most calamitous season imaginable can’t change that.