<
>

Hokies dance back into national spotlight

9/7/2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The program has been there before, and Frank Beamer still expects his Virginia Tech team to act like it.

But after a couple years out of the spotlight, maybe the Hokies deserve a little bit of slack when their exuberance spills over and their emotions catch the attention of the officials.

That won’t really be determined until an early morning meeting Wednesday, when Beamer will sit down with his Shmoney-dancing tight end Bucky Hodges. Saturday night and the wee hours of Sunday morning were reserved for an old-fashioned Virginia Tech party, even if the program happened to get started too early before officially thrusting itself back in the national picture by upsetting Ohio State 35-21 at the Horseshoe.

“We’ve got some things to clean up -- excessive celebrating for sure,” Beamer joked. "What’s the penalty? Well, we’ll show it to the team, and we’ll see how Bucky dances. And then he’s got an appointment with me on Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. We’ll check his dance moves out then.”

Hodges couldn’t resist flashing them after snagging the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, an athletic grab in the corner of the end zone that was merely one of many eye-popping plays that were a callback to Virginia Tech's heyday under Beamer.

There hasn’t been nearly as much for the Hokies to feel good about, coming off consecutive seasons with at least five losses, disappointing campaigns that kept them out of the preseason polls and far removed from any conversations about the College Football Playoff after long being a fixture in the Bowl Championship Series. But almost from start to finish, it was the Hokies who looked every bit the part of a national contender and not the Buckeyes, who were playing in front of a record-breaking crowd, hadn’t lost a regular-season game under Urban Meyer and still hadn’t lowered their expectations despite the loss of star quarterback Braxton Miller.

They couldn’t resist cutting loose and having a some fun while reminding the country the program is alive and well.

“It had had been on my mind, and when I finally scored, I just felt like I had to hit the dance,” Hodges said. “The coaches were hot, and they were letting me have it. ... Was it worth it, though? Yeah.”

The Hokies clearly weren’t intimidated by the noise or the long win streak, and there was nothing the Buckeyes did on the field that appeared to really bother them, either.

Quarterback Michael Brewer was harassed throughout the game by a talented Ohio State defensive front, but he weathered every hit, kept rattling off third-down conversions and never looked fazed. There was no true standout at the skill positions, but the Hokies found a way to manufacture four scoring drives by giving touches to 16 different players as either rusher or receiver.

That was more than enough to complement another virtuous performance by the defense, with coordinator Bud Foster ruthlessly unleashing his full array of pressure packages and racking up seven sacks of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett.

“Yeah, the last couple years haven’t been what we wanted,” Foster said. “But I think every program goes through that at some point in time. We had been on a stretch of pretty special years and putting them back-to-back-to-back-to-back. You look at every program in the history of football, even this program, there are down years here and there.

"But this was a credit to the kids and our staff. We had a good plan, they were well-prepared, and they played really hard.”

They even seemed to dial it up when the stakes were highest, looking every bit like a program that played in six BCS bowl games should.

The Hokies were challenged late after Barrett delivered a touchdown strike in the face of a blitz and Ezekiel Elliott tied the game by slicing through a handful of defenders for a 15-yard scoring run. But Brewer and Hodge answered with the throw that launched a dance party, and the defense supplied repeated uppercuts with six sacks in the fourth quarter before Donovan Riley landed the knockout blow by nabbing Virginia Tech’s third interception and returning it 63 yards for a touchdown.

Of course, there was also an unsportsmanlike penalty after that play, but by then there was no stopping the celebration for the Hokies.

A coming-out party? No. More like a welcome-back affair.

“The last two seasons, they were not bad seasons,” cornerback Brandon Facyson said. “Some things didn’t go our way, but I feel like everybody has overlooked us. When it comes to big games now, they still overlook us.

“I hope this win has really opened up some eyes. We are still a dominant team. We are not out of it by any means. We are still a team to be reckoned with.”

The Hokies have obviously been on the big stage before. Now they’re acting again like they belong there.