2002 San Francisco Bowl
Air Force (8-5) 1000313
(21) Virginia Tech (10-4) 737320
  • San Francisco, CA - 25,966
  • Passing: Bryan Randall 177 yds
  • Rushing: Lee Suggs 70 yds
  • Receiving: Ernest Wilford 50 yds
SAN FRANCISCO - The Virginia Tech Hokies rallied from a 10-point deficit to take the lead in the second half and Ronyell Whitaker made two huge defensive plays in the waning seconds as the Hokies rang in the New Year with a 20-13 win over Air Force in the inaugural Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl in front of more than 25,000 fans at Pac Bell Park.

With the win, Tech finished the season 10-4, notching the sixth 10-win season in the program's history. As a program, the Hokies improved to 6-10 in bowl games, including a 5-5 mark in head coach Frank Beamer's tenure.

But perhaps more importantly, Tech's seniors notched their 40th win, making them the winningest class in school history.

"For these seniors, to go out as the all-time winningest class is pretty significant," Beamer said. "And now we're going to be second behind Michigan as far as being ranked in consecutive weeks in the top 25. We won 10 games. There were some great things that came out of this win over a really good Air Force team."

Tech trailed 10-0 in the first quarter, but rallied and took a 17-10 lead on a Lee Suggs' 1-yard touchdown run with 4:55 left in the first quarter. The two teams then traded field goals as the Hokies led 20-13 going into the game's final possession.

Air Force (8-5) took over at its own 18 with 4:11 left in the game and managed to drive deep into Tech territory. On first-and-20 from the Tech 39, Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge tried to hit a wide-open Anthony Park, but Whitaker, Tech's senior cornerback, knocked the ball away at the last second to save a touchdown.

Three plays later, Air Force managed to convert a fourth-and-11 - the Falcons converted 4-of-5 fourth-down conversions in the game - when Harridge hit J.P. Waller for a 20-yard gain to the Tech 10. Two Harridge incompletions left the Falcons with seven seconds on the clock and basically time for one last play.

On the game's final play, Harridge dropped back to pass, but finding no one open, he tried to scramble for the end zone. Whitaker hit Harridge at the Tech 4, and Harridge, in desperate straits, heaved the ball toward offensive lineman Brett Huyser. Jason Murphy and Lamar Cobb buried Huyser to end the game, setting off a wild celebration on the Tech sideline.

"I was hoping that I wouldn't let a quarterback embarrass me," Whitaker said, laughing. "Nah, he's a great player and he was playing with an injury. He's a tough kid. I take nothing away from him.

"I had to make a play. If not, Coach Foster would have been on me, the fans would have been on me ... it would have been deja-vous. I couldn't have picked a better way to end my career."

Tech's defense got off to a shaky start as Air Force jumped out to a 10-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game. On the Falcons' first possession, they went 80 yards in three minutes, thanks largely to a 47-yard pass play from Harridge to Park that got the Falcons to the Tech 27. Air Force scored on the drive when Matt Ward took the pitch on a reverse and went 15 yard for a score.

The Falcons then took advantage of a questionable Suggs' fumble - Suggs appeared to have hit the ground first and the ground cannot cause a fumble. Taking over at the Tech 35, Air Force ended up settling for a season-long 45-yard field goal by Joey Ashcroft.

But the Hokies settled down after that, allowing just three points the rest of the game. Air Force, which came into the nation ranked No. 1 in rushing offense (314.5 ypg), amassed just 227 yards on the ground. And Harridge completed just 4-of-19 for 91 yards, with two interceptions.

Offensively, quarterback Bryan Randall, the game's offensive most valuable player, led the Hokies. Randall completed 18-of-23 for 177 yards, while Suggs led the Hokies rushing attack with 70 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. As a team, Tech finished with just 278 yards of total offense.

The Hokies, who won an inaugural bowl for the second time, now plan on using this win as a springboard into next season. The Hokies dropped four of their final six last season, including the Gator Bowl game, and went into this game having lost four of five.

"Everyone was saying we had lost four of five," defensive end Jim Davis said. "Maybe now they'll start saying we finished the season by winning two of our final three. There's no doubt we're going to use this as a stepping stone for next season."