Unfortunately for the Hokies, Cal got to fire off the final round.
Cal kicker Tyler Fredrickson, who came into the game having made just 14 of 29 field-goal attempts all season, drilled a 35-yarder at the final horn to lift Cal past the Hokies 52-49 in a thrilling Insight Bowl game played in front of a record crowd of 42,364 fans at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.
The loss marked Tech's fifth in its final seven games this season. The Hokies finished the season 8-5 overall and fell to 6-11 in bowl games, including a 5-6 mark under head coach Frank Beamer . Cal, playing in a bowl for the first time since 1996, finished its season 8-6 overall.
The loss marked a bitter end to Tech's season, particularly from a defensive standpoint. Looking to rebound from several poor performances down the stretch, the Hokies instead gave up 530 yards of total offense. The Bears held the ball for more than 37 minutes and converted 13-of-17 on third down. And Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers shredded the Hokies for 394 yards and two touchdowns, completing 27-of-35.
"We knew their quarterback was good. He was as accurate a guy as any I've seen and he's a heckuva player," Beamer said. "I think Cal's a team to watch in the Pac-10.
"For us, defensively, we need to find some playmakers. And I think we're going to study things a bit this offseason. But you've got to make plays. That's the bottom line and we didn't do that tonight."
Trailing by seven at halftime, Cal scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the second half, taking a 49-35 lead on a 13-yard run by Vincent Strang with 6:26 left in the game. Strang's touchdown capped a 65-yard drive that ate 7:09 off the clock.
But the Hokies rallied, scoring 14 unanswered themselves. After Strang's touchdown, Tech went 80 yards in less than two minutes and quarterback Bryan Randall found Chris Shreve for a 28-yard touchdown that cut the Cal lead to seven, 49-42, with 4:28 left.
Tech forced the Bears to punt on Cal's next possession - Cal's only punt of the second half. Tech punt returner DeAngelo Hall got the ball and tied the game at 42 when he took that punt 52 yards for a touchdown with 3:11 remaining.
That marked Hall's third punt return for a touchdown this season and the fifth of his career. He became Tech's all-time leader for career punt returns for touchdowns, breaking the mark of four held by André Davis and Frank Loria .
But on the ensuing kickoff after Hall's touchdown, Tech's Brandon Pace kicked the ball out of bounds, giving the Bears the ball at the 35. Cal marched 47 yards on seven plays, reaching the Tech 18 before calling a timeout with two seconds in the game. The Hokies also called a timeout, trying to ice Fredrickson. But the senior from Santa Clara, Calif., booted it through the uprights to give Cal the win.
The loss overshadowed a brilliant game by Tech's offense, and most notably, Randall. On the money for the entire game, the senior from Williamsburg, Va., completed 24-of-34 for 398 yards and four touchdowns. He also scored a touchdown rushing, thus accounting for five of Tech's seven scores.
Seniors Keith Willis ,Ernest Wilford and Shreve also enjoyed huge games in their final contests as Hokies. Willis, a tight end from Norfolk, Va., became the first Tech player ever to catch two touchdown passes in a bowl game - his first two touchdowns of the season - and Wilford broke Antonio Freeman's career mark for receptions. The senior from Richmond caught eight passes for 110 yards, giving him 126 catches for his career. Freeman had held the record of 121 for the past nine years.
Shreve, from Mouth of Wilson, Va., caught three passes for 93 yards and the touchdown. The catches mark his first since the Rutgers game, when he hauled in four, including two for touchdowns.
Junior Kevin Jones , also playing his final game as a Hokie before heading to the NFL, rushed for 153 yards on 16 carries and scored a touchdown. Tech finished with 551 yards of total offense.
"It's disappointing for me because we didn't get the win," Jones said. "I gave it my all, but Cal made some big plays. It's unfortunate. We tried hard and didn't give up. We just didn't make enough plays to get the win."
After the game, Hall, the junior cornerback from Chesapeake, Va., announced that he planned on forgoing his senior season and making himself available for the NFL Draft. In addition to his punt return for a touchdown, Hall was credited with a team-leading nine tackles in the game.
"I talked it over with my coaches and my family, and I got a lot of feedback from NFL general managers," Hall said. "I thought this was a good decision for me and my family.
"Three years ago, Coach [Bryan] Stinespring brought me here [Tech] and I fell in love with this place. I came to camp here a couple of times and I never looked at any other school. Virginia Tech already had the best thing. I came here because of this coaching staff and I've had a great time and now it's time to pursue a career in the NFL."