|(16) Clemson (9-2)||0||10||3||7||20|
|(6) Virginia Tech (10-1)||14||7||13||7||41|
Yet on the field at Alltel Stadium, it was the Hokies who left the largest imprints.
Thanks to big plays from a Michael Vick-led offense and a strong defensive performance, Virginia Tech exorcised its Jacksonville demons and rang in the new year by defeating Clemson 41-20 in front of 68,741 fans at the 56th annual Gator Bowl.
With the win, Tech snapped its two-game losing streak in Gator Bowl games. Tech's two previous trips to the Gator Bowl resulted in blowouts to Tennessee and North Carolina by a combined score of 87-26. The Hokies' 42-3 loss to the Tar Heels in 1998 marked the school's worst bowl loss and the worst loss under head coach Frank Beamer.
"I wasn't going home feeling the way I felt that night," said tailback André Kendrick, a redshirt senior who played in the now infamous game. "That was embarrassing. I just wanted to win this one. I didn't care how."
"After the way we played the last two times, if we didn't do better this time, the Gator Bowl people weren't going to have us back," said Beamer, who improved to 4-4 in bowl games. "We weren't as consistent as we'd have liked, but overall our defense played well and came up with some big plays, and offensively we got some big plays. It was a great win and a great start to next year."
Tech finished the season 11-1, marking the first time in school history the Hokies have finished consecutive seasons with an 11-1 record. The Hokies ended up ranked sixth in both the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and The Associated Press poll.
Tech certainly played like it from the opening kickoff. The Hokies held Clemson to three-and-out on the Tigers' first possession, forcing them to punt. Clemson snapper Henry Owen, though, tossed back a poor snap to Jamie Somaini and Somaini was tackled for a loss at the Clemson 23.
The Hokies then took advantage of the great field position. On their first play, quarterback Michael Vick hit fullback Jarrett Ferguson with a perfect strike up the middle and Ferguson coasted into the end zone for the touchdown. The extra point gave Tech a 7-0 lead.
Vick accounted for Tech's second touchdown as well. Near the end of the first quarter, the redshirt sophomore led the Hokies on a 59-yard march that ended with him scoring on a 6-yard run - on third-and-goal - with 1:08 left in the quarter.
Vick finished the game with 224 yards of total offense and earned the game's most valuable player award. He completed 10 of 18 passes - and had at least four dropped - for 205 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He averaged more than 20 yards per completion.
"We were going to take our shots," said Vick. "If they were going to play us man, then we were going for it and it panned out for us. We were able to catch them in the right defense a couple times."
Clemson sliced into Tech's lead in the second quarter. Clemson's ever elusive quarterback, Woody Dantzler, hit tailback Travis Zachery for a 23-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to seven and then the Tigers took advantage of a Vick fumble, cutting the lead to 14-10 on a 28-yard field goal by kicker Aaron Hunt.
But the Hokies answered, getting three plays for 45 yards or more and all three led to touchdowns.
A 49-yard pass play from Vick to Kendrick on third-and-2 put the Hokies at the Clemson 4, and two plays later, tailback Lee Suggs scored from the 3. The extra point capped a seven-play, 78-yard drive and gave the Hokies a 21-10 lead that they took into the locker room at halftime.
Then after halftime, on Tech's first possession, Vick hit André Davis for a 55-yard gain to the Clemson 1 and Suggs scored from a yard out on the next play -his second of three scores on the day. The missed extra point by Carter Warley left Tech with a 27-10 lead.
Another Clemson field goal made the score 27-13, but the Hokies answered with another big play and another touchdown. A 45-yard run by Kendrick got the Hokies into Clemson territory, and four plays later, Ferguson polished off the drive - and the Tigers - with a 5-yard touchdown run.
"It seemed like they were packing the middle, trying to take away our power game," Kendrick said. "By us getting to the outside and being one-on-one with the defensive backs, that works to our advantage. When you've got backs like Lee Suggs and myself, we can take advantage of that."
On the other side of the ball, Tech kept Dantzler on the run - backwards - all day long. The Hokies held Clemson to 88 yards rushing, sacked Clemson's quarterbacks six times and picked off two passes. Dantzler completed just 15 of 32 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown, with one interception. Dantzler rushed for 81 yards on 18 carries, but Tech kept him from making the big play. His longest run was 27 yards.
"They really spread you out and want to run the ball," Beamer said. "You've got to make them throw the football. Their backs and Dantzler are good, so you have to keep them in there and make them throw it and I thought we did that.
"Overall, you have to give our defense credit. Clemson had some opportunities and our defense stepped up."