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September 22, 2008
Even when things look their worst on the road, Hokies seem to find a way

As the second-half clock continued to tick, the young, up-and-coming team thought it had a chance to register a true, monumental victory – a win that would show the progress its program had made in recruiting, in talent level and in its ability to compete at the highest level.

The players believed. The fans believed. “This was our day. This is our time.”

The fans looked at the scoreboard, turned to their friends and pointed – “Look, we’re ahead. It’s late in the game. I told you we could win this game.”

It was Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina.

The date was March 15th, 2008 at Bobcats Arena in Charlotte in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. North Carolina was ranked No. 1 in the country and was 30-2 on the season, but coach Seth Greenberg’s Tech team played a near-flawless game.

The confident Hokies opened up an eight-point lead in the first half. Even after UNC rallied to tie the game at halftime, Greenberg’s young team continued to fight in the second half.

A Lewis Witcher tip-in put Tech up by two. Jeff Allen hit a free throw. Then Dorenzo Hudson drilled a 3-point shot, which gave the Hokies a six-point lead. When Deron Washington dunked with 6:00 to play, Virginia Tech had a seven-point lead over the top-ranked Tar Heels.

The players believed. The fans believed. “This was our day. This is our time.”

Well, we all remember what happened next. Carolina’s Wayne Ellington drilled a couple of huge 3-pointers, Tyler Hansbrough got a big rebound off a missed shot by Ty Lawson and scored the winning basket with 0.08 seconds left in the game.

The Hokies did not trail in the second half until the final eight-tenths of a second. Final score: Tar Heels 68, Hokies 66.

But it was the kind of game that Carolina always wins, no?

When all hope seems lost, when it appears the other team is just seconds away from scoring a huge win, even when it doesn’t play at its best or when facing an inspired up-and-comer, Carolina seemingly always finds away to break the other guys’ hearts.

They seemingly always win the games they probably shouldn’t.

I thought about this past spring’s ACC semifinal basketball game while walking out of Kenan Stadium this past Saturday after the Hokies’ 20-17 win over the Tar Heels.

This was Carolina’s day. The players believed and certainly the fans believed. And for much of the day, it looked like Carolina would register its first ACC win over Virginia Tech.

But somehow, Tech found a way to win a game when all hope seemed lost.

Its offense, which stuttered and sputtered for nearly three quarters, started to click late in the game with Tyrod Taylor firing darts downfield. The running lanes finally opened up for tailback Darren Evans. Young receivers and tight ends came back to make sliding catches. The offensive line was physical and dominant.

Orion Martin knocked the ball free and created a turnover at just the right time (see Danny Green vs. the Hokies in the ACC tournament for another parallel).

The momentum started to change in the fourth quarter and Virginia Tech started playing like … well, Virginia Tech.

It’s as if coach Frank Beamer flipped a switch after UNC jumped to a 17-3 lead.

And at the end, the Hokies walked out of a stadium wondering ‘How did we win that one?’

Just like the Clemson game in 2007, the N.C. State game in 2005 or the Georgia Tech game in 2004. The story is strikingly similar: Tech goes into a wild, crazy, road setting, gets dominated on the stat sheet for much of the game and yet leaves town with another victory.

Virginia Tech is now 16-1 in ACC road games, and so many times, the home team walked away questioning “how in the world did we lose?”

What we saw last March in Charlotte and this past Saturday in Chapel Hill are examples of what makes UNC’s basketball program, and Frank Beamer’s football program, remarkably successful.

For the Hokies, when they had to make a play, they did.

• Taylor was in the grasp of a defender when he made a key third-down throw. That was simply a clutch play. If Taylor is sacked, Tech is punting from its own end, trailing 17-3 late in the third.

• The interior of Tech’s offensive line – Nick Marshman, Ryan Shuman and Sergio Render – was physical and powerful in the fourth quarter. Kudos to Mike Gentry, Keith Short and Co., for that.

• The Hokies were efficient in limiting turnovers and penalties, which was a key for a second straight week.

• Special teams: Macho Harris made a great juke-step to his right to set up a left sideline punt return in the fourth quarter. Dustin Keys followed with a 45-yard field goal.

It’s those little things that make a difference in a tight ball game.

They may not play their best and the odds might look slim. But the players believe that somehow, someway, they’ll win at the end. Even when they probably shouldn’t.

Quick Snaps
New clock rule: How are the new clock rules affecting Virginia Tech? Well, through four games, the Hokies are running about four less plays per game than last year. Tech foes are running about seven less plays per game.

Our ISP Sports radio network stat man, Carter Myers, compiled the numbers, and excluding punts, Virginia Tech is averaging 61 plays per game. Last year, Tech averaged 65 snaps per game.

In 2007, the Hokies and their foes averaged 132 snaps per game. This year, the total is 121 snaps. That’s 8.3 percent fewer plays.

The games are a bit shorter, which was the concept behind the rule. They also favor a team with the lead in the fourth quarter since it’s easier to run time off the clock with a 40-second play clock in use.

Radio at Nebraska: Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network radio coverage of this week’s game in Lincoln, Neb., begins at 6:30 p.m. (EST) from Memorial Stadium. If you’re traveling to the game, you’ll be able to hear the game at 95.9 FM at the stadium.

Television: On this week’s edition of Virginia Tech Sports Today, we’ll have highlights and postgame from the Tech locker room, plus a feature on Hokies punter Brent Bowden. Also, we’ll be joined by Queen Harrison of Tech’s track and field team, who will share her Olympic experience memories. We’ll also flashback to a memorable 1991 win at WVU.

For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).

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