MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Virginia Tech got a 100-yard rushing performance from Darren Evans, and Tech’s defense intercepted four passes, as the Hokies shook off an early Cincinnati touchdown and dominated the Bearcats the rest of the way en route to a 20-7 victory in the 75th Orange Bowl played at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
With the victory, the Hokies put to rest their modest two-game bowl skid and won a ‘major’ bowl game for the first time since knocking off Texas in 1995 Sugar Bowl. Tech closed out the season with four straight wins and finished with a 10-4 overall record, winning at least 10 games for the fifth consecutive season – an accomplishment only Southern Cal and Texas can boast.
“I think this is the best football ‘team’ we’ve ever had,” said Tech head coach Frank Beamer, who improved to 7-9 in bowl games. “We had some tough losses, but no one slipped up. We hung in there together. We always practiced hard. I can’t say enough about our players and our coaches.
“We have some great, great seasons here at Virginia Tech. But I believe this is the best team we’ve ever had.”
Tech used a pounding rushing attack led by Evans and a punishing defense that slammed the door on Cincinnati’s potent attack to claim its first Orange Bowl title in three attempts.
Evans became the first running back to rush for more than 100 yards against Cincy’s defense this season. The Indianapolis, Ind., native ground out 153 yards on 28 carries for his fourth 100-yard rushing performance of the year.
A combination of Tech’s defense and Evans put the game away for the Hokies early in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati faced a second-and-7 from its own 17 and quarterback Tony Pike tried to complete a screen pass. But Tech defensive end Orion Martin made a diving interception on the play – the first of his career – giving the Hokies the ball at the Cincinnati 10.
Evans took care of the rest. He carried three straight times, scoring on a 6-yard run, and Dustin Keys’ extra point gave the Hokies a 20-7 lead with 11:29 left in the game. His performance enabled him to win the game’s MVP honor.
“It means a lot to me, with this being my freshman year,” Evans said. “I’ve got to give a lot of props to the offensive line. They made a lot of holes out there for me, and really, it was just out there for me to take. Coach put the ball in my hand a lot and I appreciate that.”
“Darren has scored a lot of touchdowns,” Beamer said. “You knew the talent was there. To me, he played faster as the year went along, and I think that came with confidence. I thought here at the end, he played fast. He looked fast. He really continued to improve.”
Behind Evans, the Hokies piled up 258 yards rushing on 55 carries. For the game, Tech finished with 398 total yards and had nearly 40 minutes of possession time.
It looked rough for Tech early in this one as the Bearcats struck quickly, scoring on the opening possession of the game. They easily marched 72 yards in only six plays. The big play came when Pike connected with Mardy Gilyard for a 38-yard completion to the Tech 15. Three plays later, on third-and-9, Pike connected with Gilyard again, hitting him for a 15-yard touchdown strike. Jake Rogers’ extra point gave the Bearcats a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
“Our heads went down for a second, but we all came together and lifted our heads up,” safety Kam Chancellor said. “We knew it was just the first two minutes of the game and that there were three more quarters. We all stepped up to the challenge and did what we had to do.”
Tech came back to tie the game early in the second quarter, putting together another nice drive. This one went 73 yards in nine plays and ended when quarterback Tyrod Taylor scored on a 17-yard run. Keys’ extra point tied the game with 13 minutes left in the first half.
The Hokies managed to take the lead right before halftime, thanks largely to a Stephan Virgil interception in the end zone that negated a Cincinnati scoring threat. On the ensuing drive, Taylor led the Hokies 54 yards to the Bearcats 26 and Keys nailed a 43-yard field goal as time expired to give the Hokies a 10-7 lead at the half.
Keys also added 35-yard field goal in the third quarter, and Tech’s defense took care of the rest. The Hokies held Cincinnati to just 310 total yards and intercepted Pike four times, including one by Chancellor – his second of the season.
“We knew he took chances,” Chancellor said. “I had a feeling we were going to be able to get our hands on a lot of balls.”
The win marked the end of a great run for Tech’s seniors. They closed out their careers in grand style, winning their 42nd game (against 12 losses). That ties the school record for the most victories in a four-year span. Last year’s group went 42-11.
Tech’s win also snapped the ACC’s skid in BCS bowls. The league had lost eight straight games and was 1-9 all time in BCS games before the Hokies victory on Thursday night.