California took the opening kick off and eventually scored, making it 7-0. The Hokies went 1-5 in 2003 when the opposing team scored first. The losses were West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Virginia and California. The lone win was in the Rutgers game.
Ernest Wilford's first catch of the game marked the 27th-consecutive game in which the senior has caught a pass. The last game he didn't catch a pass was the Gator Bowl following the 2001 season.
With eight receptions against Cal, Wilford finishes his career with 126, breaking the school record for career pass receptions. The record was previously held by Antonio Freeman (121 rec.; 1991-94). He also finishes with 2,052 career receiving yards, passing André Davis (1,986 yds.; 1998-01) and moving into third place. He is one of only three receivers ever in Tech history to record 2,000 or more career receiving yards (Ricky Scales, 2,272; Antonio Freeman, 2,207). The eight catches set a new Tech bowl record, besting André Davis's seven catches against Florida State in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
Wilford finished the season with 55 receptions, breaking the school record of 51 he set a year ago. He is the first Hokie to ever record two seasons of 50 receptions or more.
With 153 rushing yards, Kevin Jones finished his career with 3,475 rushing yards, moving him past Roscoe Coles (3,459 yds.; 1974-77) and into second place all-time at Tech. Jones finished the season with a school-record 1,647 yards rushing on 281 carries (5.86 ypc) and 21 TDs. He also had 14 receptions for 161 yards. He averaged a school-record 5.62 yards per carry during his career, surpassing the old mark of 5.42 set by Maurice Williams (1983-86).
Kevin Jones' 21 rushing touchdowns this season rank third in Virginia Tech single-season history. Lee Suggs scored an NCAA-high 27 rushing touchdowns in 2000 and scored 22 in 2002.
Jones went over the century mark for the ninth time in the last 11 games, rushing for 153 yards. The nine 100-yard games this season extends his school record for 100-yard games in a season. Jones finishes his career with 15 career 100-yard games, second all-time at Tech and putting him right behind Cyrus Lawrence (16). The 153 yards in the bowl game set a new Tech bowl record, previously held by Ken Oxendine (150 yds.; vs. Nebraska; 1996 Orange Bowl).
With 390 yards of total offense, Bryan Randall moved past Steve Casey (4,987 yds.; 1978-81) and into fourth place all-time at Virginia Tech for career total offense. Randall now has 5,259 yards and trails Will Furrer (5,782 yds.; 1988-91) by 523 yards for third place.
Randall tied one and set four Tech bowl records in defeat. His 24 completions topped Erik Chapman's 20 in the 1986 Peach Bowl against N.C. State, while his 34 attempts tied Jim Druckenmiller's output against Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl. His 398 yards passing topped Grant Noel's 269 yards against Florida State in the 2002 Gator Bowl. Randall's four touchdown passes set a new mark, besting Druckenmiller's three TD tosses against Nebraska in the 1996 Orange Bowl. His 390 yards of total offense topped Michael Vick's 322 yards against Florida State in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
Quarterback Marcus Vick recorded his first-career reception in the first quarter, a 13-yarder, and then went on to make his first touchdown catch later in the first quarter. He is the first Tech player who is primarily a quarterback to catch a pass for a touchdown in the modern era (since 1950). For the game, he caught four passes for 82 yards. He also threw two touchdown passes this year.
Receiver Richard Johnson attempted his second-career pass, an incomplete pass intended for Wilford. He threw an incomplete pass against Florida State in the Gator Bowl following the 2001 season.
Chris Shreve caught his first pass since catching four passes for 93 yards and two scores at Rutgers, the fifth game of the year. The senior had been hampered by a separated shoulder, and then a pulled hamstring. The 53-yard catch is the longest of his career. He finished with three catches for 93 yards and a TD.
Senior tight end Keith Willis caught his first two touchdown passes of the season and the third and fourth of his career. The last Tech tight end to catch a touchdown in a bowl game was Steve Johnson, a 6-yard catch, coming against North Carolina State in the 1986 Peach Bowl. Willis became the first Tech player ever to catch two touchdown passes in a bowl game.
The 21 first-quarter points were the most ever for Tech in a bowl game. The previous high for points in the first quarter was 17 against Mississippi in the 1968 Liberty Bowl. Tech lost that game, 34-17. The 21 points scored in the first and fourth quarters tie the Tech bowl record for points in any quarter. Tech scored 21 points in the second quarter against Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl. The 28 first-half points equal the 28 points the Hokies scored in the first half against Indiana and the 28 second-half points scored against Alabama in the 1998 Music City Bowl. Tech's final tally of 49 points was a school bowl mark.
With 53 yards on punt returns, DeAngelo Hall moved up on both the single-season and career lists at Virginia Tech. He finished the season with 487 yards, second only to Ricky Hall's 510 yards in the 1999 season. He finishes his career with 839 yards, second only to André Davis' 872 yards from 1998-2001. His 52-yard touchdown on a return gave him three for the season and five for his career. The three TDs in a season tie the school record set by Frank Loria in 1966 and then equaled by Davis in 2000. The five for his career set a new school record, breaking a tie with Loria (1965-67) and Davis (1998-2001).
With 142 yards on kick returns in the bowl, Mike Imoh finished the season with 549 yards, the third-best total in the modern era. Billy Hardee had 758 yards in 1973 while Jon Jeffries had 561 yards in 1987. The 142 yards in the bowl game set a new Tech bowl record. The old mark was held by Richard Johnson (118 yds.; vs. Florida State; 2002 Gator Bowl).
In all, Tech's offense broke or tied 14 bowl records, either individually or as a team. In addition to the ones already noted, Tech's 18 first downs by passing, 398 yards passing, 551 yards of total offense, 24 passes completed, 49 points scored and four passing touchdowns are also new bowl records. Tech's 26 rushing plays are the fewest in 17 bowl games.
Cal set 10 records by a Tech opponent in a bowl game. Aaron Rodgers' 27 completions, 394 yards passing and 426 yards of total offense are all new records. As a team, the 27 first downs, 17 first downs by passing, 394 yards passing, 530 yards of total offense, 27 passes completed, 52 points scored and five rushing touchdowns are all new marks.
Tech's 460 points for the season set a new school record, surpassing the old record of 455 points set by the 1999 team. The Hokies' 61 touchdowns tied a Tech mark set in 2000.
Tech finished the season 8-5, marking the most losses in a season since going 7-5 in the 1997 season. The Hokies will open the 2004 season on Aug. 28 at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., taking on another Pac-10 team from the state of California in the University of Southern California. It will mark Tech's first game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It wasn't New Year's Eve, but the Virginia Tech Hokies and the California Golden Bears certainly blasted off more than their fair share of fireworks.
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."
Tech begins winter workouts shortly after school starts in mid-January. Spring practice starts in March and the Hokies open their 2004 season in the BCA Classic against Southern Cal on Aug. 28th at FedEx Field.