November 25, 2015
Silver anniversary of a perfect night
Twenty-five years ago, Virginia Tech wore all-maroon uniforms, painted their shoes black and then pounded rival Virginia at Lane Stadium, handing head coach Frank Beamer his first win over UVA

By Jimmy Robertson

By most measures, it was practically a flawless late-fall afternoon in Southwest Virginia.

The sun possessed that autumn glow. A stiff and consistent breeze brought a chill, but not necessarily a biting cold. It was just enough to let one know that a new season was approaching.

The trees, for the most part, stood naked, having shed their leaves and creating a carpet of gold and scarlet. The moon popped out, quietly hiding in a blue sky and waiting to be turned on by the sun’s setting.

The weather was perfect for tailgating, and Hokie Nation made the season’s final pilgrimage to Blacksburg to see their beloved close out the campaign. The year was 1990, the team’s record was 5-5, and a win over bitter rival Virginia would produce a winning season, a source of warmth for the coming winter’s cold.

Tech’s players knew their future lot. This game marked the end of the year for them, and the Hokies viewed themselves as a rest area for the Cavaliers, who were on a drive to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, gaudy national ranking in tow. In those days, bowl invitations went out well before season’s end.

So the Hokies were going all out for this one. They convinced their coach to let them wear all-maroon uniforms. Then they took matters into their own hands, as the seniors, an outfit led by the likes of Archie Hopkins, Nick Cullen, Al Chamblee and Jimmy Whitten, hatched a shrewdly devised scheme to wear coveted black cleats.

That marked the start of what turned out to be one of the most magical evenings in the history of Virginia Tech football. On Nov. 24, 1990, with the nation watching and the largest crowd ever assembled for an event in the Commonwealth, the Hokies won what they termed as their “bowl” game, giving head coach Frank Beamer his first win over the school’s rivals and starting an undeniable legacy.

In early November, Beamer announced his plans to retire at the end of this season, concluding a 29-year tenure at Tech and a 35-year head coaching career. He has enjoyed tremendous success during his nearly three decades at Tech, particularly against Virginia. His teams are 19-9 against the Cavaliers, including a current 11-game winning streak. His teams lost five of the first six meetings against UVA after he arrived at Tech, but have dominated since.

Of all the victories over the Cavaliers, though, none may have been sweeter than the 1990 victory.

Twenty-five years later, he and those who played in the game vividly remember what took place.


Lester Karlin was in year No. 12 of what ended up being a 36-year career as Tech’s equipment manager. For him, this pending game with Virginia resembled any other game. He and his crew set up the locker room, made sure the appropriate items for the sideline sat in their proper places and handed out gameday attire to players.

The Hokies went out for early pregame warm-ups for the Virginia game and came back to the locker room before heading out one final time. They shed their white pants in favor of the maroon ones – a surprise to fans, who hadn’t seen all-maroon outfits since 1984. Then a multitude of players disappeared. The locker room, save for a few, was eerily quiet.

One of Karlin’s minions came up to him and told him he needed to go outside.

“You need to see this,” he said. “They’re out there spray painting their shoes.”

Karlin marched outside and what he saw left him with a single reaction.

“I was pretty well pissed,” he said. “They got black spray paint all over the benches and on their socks and shoes.”

Tech’s players, led by those seniors, had cans of black spray paint in their hands, spraying their white Converse cleats. Black cleats became the rage in the late 1980s, with a lot of big-time schools going in that direction. Tech officials, a little late to the party, planned on making the change the following season as part of a new agreement with Nike.

For the seniors, though, it would be too late. They, along with the underclassmen, saw this game as the perfect opportunity to do something like this.

Vaughn Hebron, a sophomore at the time, said there was one caveat – they needed to get quarterback Will Furrer on board.

“Will was pretty straight-laced,” Hebron said. “If we didn’t get everyone on board, then it wouldn’t look right.”

Furrer, however, doesn’t quite remember the story this way.

“Vaughn told you that?” he asked. “I think he’s pulling your leg. I think, by that point in my career, I was smart enough to know that if my offensive line and running backs and receivers told me to do something, then I did it.”

Regardless, Furrer hopped on board, which comforted the group. After all, the quarterback serves as the leader of a team, and the left-hander from Bellevue, Washington, definitely led this squad.

“Will was all about it,” Hebron said. “Once he realized everyone was involved and this was something we really wanted to do, he jumped on it. It was cool. That really excited us. When we convinced him to do it, we knew it was the right thing to do.”

After seeing the mess, Karlin knew nothing could be done. So he sought out Beamer to deliver the news.

He found Beamer in his office, firming up some latest minute details to the game plan. Beamer’s reaction wasn’t quite what Karlin expected.

“Lester was getting all crazy on me,” Beamer said, with a laugh. “I remember telling him something like, ‘If it helps us win, let ’em go.’”


ESPN folks arrived days beforehand to set up their cameras, as the game was to be shown to the nation. A young Sean McDonough would be handling the play-by-play duties and underrated Mike Gottfried took on the color commentary. Gottfried knew Beamer well, having coached with him at Murray State. Kevin Kiley handled the sideline reports.

Tech came into the game with a 5-5 record, having played a brutal schedule that included games at then-No. 2 Florida State (a 39-28 loss) and at then-No. 7 Georgia Tech (a 6-3 loss). The Hokies had lost three games by a touchdown or less, including that excruciating defeat at Georgia Tech in their previous game. But they had two weeks to get ready for UVA, with an off week before the game – and prepared accordingly.

Virginia came into the game ranked No. 17 in the nation, with an 8-2 mark and the aforementioned Sugar Bowl bid in hand. It reached the pinnacle of its season on Oct. 14 when Associated Press poll voters ranked the Cavaliers No. 1 nationally after their 7-0 start.

But the Cavaliers entered the Tech game struggling. They had lost two of their previous three games, seeing their dreams of an undefeated season end with a 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech and then receiving a double whammy from Maryland, which beat the Cavaliers 35-30 and dislocated UVA quarterback Shawn Moore’s thumb in the process. That left their offense in the hands of junior Matt Blundin.

UVA’s wounded status mattered little to Tech fans. Tech officials brought additional bleacher seating for this rivalry game, and a crowd of 54,157 squeezed into Lane Stadium.

Tech’s captains walked with purpose to midfield for the coin toss. The Hokies won the toss, and as is Beamer’s traditional custom, elected to defer their decision to the second half. Virginia decided to receive, and Tech elected to defend the south goal, taking the wind in the first quarter.

That turned out to be a pivotal decision. Few remember this, but the wind played a major role in this game, with gusts reaching 15-20 miles per hour. Playing with the wind in the first quarter allowed Tech offensive coordinator Steve Marshall to be aggressive from the start.

In contrast, UVA seemed to struggle going into the wind. Derek Dooley, former Tennessee head coach and current Dallas Cowboys receivers coach, dropped passes on the Cavaliers’ first two possessions, perhaps serving as a microcosm of things to come.

On their second possession, the Hokies went for the big play – and got it. Furrer carried out a beautiful play-action fake to pull UVA safety Keith McMeans to one side and then threw a strike to Bo Campbell for a 49-yard gain to the Virginia 15. Three Tony Kennedy runs later, the Hokies were left with second-and-goal from the 3, and Mark Poindexter scored his first career touchdown on a 3-yard run to give Tech a 7-0 lead.

“As a unit, both offense and defense, we had a strong belief going in that we could win that game,” Furrer said. “We had put in the work with Coach [Mike] Gentry, and the coaches, Coach [Bud] Foster [Tech’s outside linebackers coach] and Coach [Rickey] Bustle [Tech’s quarterbacks coach] believed in our potential – and I’m not sure we had lived up to it yet.

“We recognized Coach Beamer’s passion and belief that we could bring the capital of Virginia sports from Charlottesville to Blacksburg. We were tired of being close, and we were tired of being everyone’s Homecoming game. So our defense came out and hit them in the mouth, and our offense was a force. It all came together.”


Few remember this, too, but Jerry Claiborne was in the house for this one. Claiborne got his first head coaching job when hired by Frank Moseley to take over the reins at Tech, which he did from 1961-70. He coached Beamer, who played at Tech from 1966-68.

Beamer surprised his mentor, who had gotten out of coaching the previous year, with a rather bold call on the Hokies’ next drive following their touchdown.

Furrer had gotten Tech to the Virginia 23, but back-to-back plays lost six yards, leaving the Hokies with a fourth-and-11 from the UVA 29.

Rather than have kicker Mickey Thomas attempt a career-long 46-yard field goal – with the wind at his back – Beamer elected to go for it. Following a timeout, Furrer saw man coverage on Cullen in the slot, so he changed the play. He found Cullen on a post route, and Cullen, who beat McMeans on the play, made a sliding grab in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.

“He was in the slot to the right,” Furrer said of Cullen. “It was a double move. Nick was hell on cornerbacks, but he really caused free safeties trouble. It was a little scary because I almost skipped it off the ground. He made a great catch.”

The play, which gave the Hokies a 14-0 lead with a little more than three minutes left in the quarter, still sticks with Beamer mostly because of Claiborne’s reaction afterward.

“Coach Claiborne was a conservative guy,” Beamer said. “I remember him telling me, ‘I’m really surprised you went for that first down. That was kind of a gamble.’ I told him, ‘Well, I just had the feeling that it was time to do it.’

“Since then … you go a lot on your gut feeling. Sometimes, it’s worked out, and sometimes, it hasn’t. I’ve done that quite a few times since that night. It worked out well that night.”


Tech’s defense certainly got into the act, too. A group led by Hopkins, Chamblee, Rusty Pendleton and Damien Russell forced a Blundin fumble late in the first quarter that led to another Tech drive. The Hokies drove 59 yards in 12 plays and settled for a 21-yard field goal by Thomas with 10:17 left in the first half.

That was a bonus, given the wind, as the Hokies took a 17-0 lead. But one of the big plays in the game was forthcoming.

Tech’s defense forced UVA to a three-and-out on the ensuing series, as Furrer and the offense went back to work. The Hokies drove to the UVA 33 and faced a third-and-10 situation that led to another timeout.

Coming out of the timeout, Furrer threw a ball toward tight end Greg Daniels that appeared to be too long. But Daniels made a diving grab in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown and a 24-0 Tech lead with 5:20 left in the half.

The play probably sealed the game for the Hokies.

“I remember calling the timeout because something didn’t feel quite right,” Furrer said. “Coach Bustle asked me, ‘What do you want to call?’ I told him the play, and he said, ‘Good, that’s what I was hoping you’d say.’ So I made that throw, and Greg made an amazing catch.”

UVA finally got on the board with a touchdown late in the first half on a shovel pass from Blundin to tailback Terry Kirby, but fittingly on this evening, the Hokies’ Bernard Basham blocked the extra point. The Cavaliers trailed 24-6 at the break.

Furrer and the offense dominated the first half. He completed 10 of 12 for 201 yards in the first 30 minutes, and Tech did not turn the ball over.

“The first half, we were just really in sync,” Furrer said. “We just came out and executed, and it wasn’t just me throwing the ball. It was Bo and Vaughn and Greg and the offensive line. We had the previous week off, and we put in a lot of film study. Those extra three or four days made a world of difference.”

UVA tried to get back into in the second half, but each time, the Hokies’ defense stood tall.

On the Cavaliers’ first possession, Blundin threw a deep pass toward Terrence Tomlin, but Tech’s Tyronne Drakeford made a fantastic interception to kill that threat. Then, after the Cavaliers cut the lead to 24-13 on a 66-yard pass from Blundin to Herman Moore – a pass that should have been intercepted by Drakeford, who took a poor angle on the play – UVA threatened again, driving to the Tech 14.

But the Cavaliers’ Gary Steele fumbled, and Pendleton recovered at the 17. That play probably was the biggest play of the game, as UVA did not come that close to scoring the rest of the night. After the play, UVA coach George Welsh immediately grabbed his hat and slammed it to the turf.

Starting with that fumble, Virginia turned the ball over on four straight possessions, with Drakeford – a freshman – adding another interception, along with an interception by Jerome Preston and a fumble recovery by Basham.

“It worked out well,” Drakeford said of his night. “I was playing with some good defensive backs, with Damien Russell back there – and he was one of the best safeties to come through Tech as far as I’m concerned. Those guys made me feel good, made me feel comfortable as a freshman. They told me just to go play and enjoy myself.”

Tech put this one away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. On one drive, Hebron – who missed the previous two games with a groin injury – carried the ball eight straight times. The final carry was a 9-yard touchdown run that gave Tech a 31-13 lead with 9:51 left.

With a little more than three minutes to go. Furrer threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Poindexter following Basham’s recovery of a muffed punt. That accounted for the final margin.

Virginia went into the game averaging 42 points and 542 yards per game. It finished with 13 and 374 against Tech’s defense – not to mention five turnovers.

Offensively for Tech, Furrer threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns, while Hebron, getting the bulk of the work after Kennedy injured his shoulder in the first half, rushed for 117 of his 142 yards in the second half. He finished with 31 carries.

“The groin nagged me all year long,” Hebron said. “So it was a big question mark whether I would play, and not only if I would play, but how effective would I be.

“For me personally, I was just happy to be a part of it, being on the field and being a part of something like that. I didn’t know what I’d be able to provide on the field. I went out there and I felt great. Coach [Billy] Hite [Tech’s running backs coach] put me in there the first time and I did well, and he rode me from then on out. It really worked out for me and obviously for the team.”

With two minutes left, students started jumping over the wall in the north end zone and lining up at the back of the end zone, ready to storm the field. Rodd Wooten, the Hokies’ backup quarterback, lined the team up in the victory formation with 58 seconds to go, taking the final two snaps.

As the horn sounded, the fans rushed onto the field.

And the goal posts came tumbling down.


Virginia got Moore back for the Sugar Bowl matchup against Tennessee, and the Cavaliers suffered an excruciating 23-22 setback to the Volunteers. They finished the 1990 campaign with an 8-4 record.

Tech finished at 6-5, and some argue that the Hokies were the best 6-5 team in the nation.

Perhaps more importantly, the win showed Hokie Nation that its football program could beat its rivals to the northeast. It marked Beamer’s first win over the Cavaliers in his four seasons – and the previous three losses came by a touchdown or less.

In addition, the win gave Beamer and the program some much-needed name recognition. The entire nation saw a quality, well-disciplined team destroy another such team in front of a boisterous fan base.

The country, especially recruits [of whom there were 50 in attendance], was no longer asking, ‘Virginia who?’

“When I mention Virginia Tech now, everyone knows Virginia Tech,” said Hebron, who owns and runs a gym north of Philadelphia. “They don’t get it confused with UVA. To me, that’s not a small thing. Not one time when I used to say ‘Virginia Tech’ did people not get confused with something else. Now, you mention ‘Hokies’ or ‘Virginia Tech,’ everybody knows. That was definitely one of the first games in which that started to happen. It was the first of many that created Virginia Tech as a household name.”

Furrer, now a senior vice president for Q2 Holdings in Austin, Texas, agreed.

“I think that game was bigger than a bowl game,” he said. “I think we established our position in the state, and it put Coach Beamer and Virginia Tech in a place where it should be.”

The win, and the direction the program was trending, led to the Hokies’ entrance into the Big East Football Conference. After years of playing as an independent, Tech received that invitation in 1991, along with Miami, Rutgers and West Virginia.

The invitation came during a time of uncertainty and probably saved the school’s football program. It, and Beamer’s leadership, led to an unprecedented run of success spanning more than two decades.

“There is no question that, at the time, we needed something like that,” Beamer said, referring to the win. “That was a gigantic boost. Just to beat Virginia, with the success they had had and they were going to the Sugar Bowl, and to beat them the way we beat them … there’s no question that was a big, big win for Virginia Tech.”

That night occurred 25 years ago on Nov. 24, just four days before the Hokies close the 2015 regular season in Charlottesville. Those who played in it remember it well – and they’ll never forget.

“It feels just like yesterday,” said Drakeford, who works in Gainesville, Virginia, as a regional director for The Boys and Girls Club of greater Washington. “I remember a lot about that game. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Whenever you’ve done something special, you have a tendency to remember a lot more than what you probably originally thought.”

By the time the players had gotten back to the locker room and the coaches their offices on that memorable night, students were carrying the goal posts toward downtown, with plans on parading them through Main Street.

A perfect moon illuminated their path and provided light for a long night of revelry. It marked the end of a perfect late-fall day and all knew the sun’s early-dawn light would bring forth a new day – and a changed football program at Virginia Tech.

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