Now Virginia Tech knows how Virginia felt.
It was three years ago the Hokies, trailing 29-14, rallied with 17 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to beat the Cavaliers 36-29 at Scott Stadium, stealing a bowl alliance position from them in the process.
On Saturday, before 53,207 mostly maroon and burnt orange-clad fans at Lane Stadium, it was the No. 16 Cavaliers who pulled off the miracle, outscoring the 20th-ranked Hokies 29-3 in the second half to win 36-32.
Ahmad Hawkins caught the winner, a 47-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Brooks with 2:01 remaining. The play capped a 93-yard, six-play drive by the Cavaliers, and was Hawkins' only catch of the afternoon.
"Aaron put it so only I could get it and the corner gambled," Hawkins said of Anthony Midget. "After that, I only had to beat the safety."
When he spun free of Midget around the 25, "my eyes just got real big and I had to make sure I didn't step out of bounds. It felt real good."
Brooks, who threw for 345 yards and three second-half touchdowns, lay prone at midfield for a long time after seeing Hawkins reach the end zone.
"I was really just being thankful," he said. "We were really in a no-win situation and for something like this to happen was pretty much a blessing for a us, a blessing for all the seniors really."
It was the 80th meeting in a rivalry that has grown in intensity as both schools have vastly improved their programs. The loss left Virginia Tech players devastated while the Cavaliers felt redemption for 1995.
"I don't even think this has sunk in yet," senior defensive tackle Travis Griffith said. "It's kind of like everybody's still in shock."
Pierson Prioleau, one of 13 seniors suiting up for the fina time at home, said losing to Virginia "hurts a whole lot, leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But it hurts more because this was just another loss for us."
While Virginia (9-2) accepted a Peach Bowl bid last Sunday, the Hokies (8-3) still don't know their postseason fate. Scouts from the Gator Bowl, where the Hokies played last year, and the Music City Bowl were on hand.
| Rally cap: Ahmad Hawkins hauls in the winning touchdown pass in front of Virginia Tech cornerback Anthony Midget. (AP) |
The comeback was the biggest in Virginia history, surpassing a rally from 21-3 down against Duke in 1995, and helped ease the burden of a 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech earlier this season. Virginia blew a 38-17 lead.
"It felt real good because I knew we worked real hard to come back from 29-7 and I was thinking how Georgia Tech came back on us and we had to do the same thing to show people we are a great team," Hawkins said.
Trailing 32-29, the Cavaliers got their chance with 3:21 left.
After an incompletion on the first play, Brooks was 4-for-4 in the drive and Thomas Jones ran for a first down on 3rd-and-1 from the Virginia 16.
"The guy threw great down the stretch and put some balls on the money," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said of Brooks, who threw for a school-record 390 yards and four TDs in beating the Hokies 34-20 last season.
Brooks had no choice but to heat up if Virginia was to win. He also hit Kevin Coffey for a 24-yard TD that drew the Cavaliers to within 29-14, then hit a diving Jones from 18-yards out to cut it to 32-29 with 7:02 left.
"We don't win without a great quarterback performance," said Virginia coach George Welsh, who won for the 176th time in 300 career games.
Virginia, 11th in the nation with an average of 227 rushing yards coming in, was limited to 78 on 30 carries by Virginia Tech's No. 6 rated defense.
Shyrone Stith rushed for 124 yards and a 51-yard touchdown for the Hokies, Al Clark and Lamont Pegues also ran for TDs and Shayne Graham kicked four field goals, the last an apparent back-breaker with 12:12 left.
But after Virginia held at its own 40 and the Hokies downed Jimmy Kibble's punt at the 7, Brooks went to work. He hit Casey Crawford for nine yards, Coffey for 24, Crawford again for 10 and then Hawkins for the TD.
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