Better late than never:
Va. Tech ends regular season with sixth win, extends bowl streak to 26
To all those who didn’t realize Virginia Tech had a football game Saturday, don’t feel too badly. Apparently, Marshall didn’t either.
The weather forecast was cloudy with a chance of rain, but it quickly became clear there was no chance of thunder from the Thundering Herd.
Instead, things quickly went “thud” for them.
Things are on the upswing for the Hokies, which means you might want to
circle Dec. 31 on your calendars. That’s the date of the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., the most obvious place for the Hokies to play in their 26th consecutive bowl game.
One bowl, the Military, sent representatives to observe Virginia Tech on Saturday. They probably didn’t make the trip for the weather.
The Hokies gained bowl eligibility, and more, with their 41-20 victory over Marshall. It will be Virginia Tech’s 26th consecutive bowl appearance, which will give them the longest such streak in the country.
“Certainly getting to
No. 26 was a part of this,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “But I really felt like it was even bigger than that. Those kids in that locker room stood tall and stood strong when other people ran. When things weren’t well and things were tough, they stayed together. They continued to battle. They found a way to keep the two streaks alive.”
In addition to the bowl streak, Virginia Tech’s victory over Virginia in the 11th game of the season gave the Hokies their 15th straight victory over the Cavaliers.
“I think it teaches them a great lesson about perseverance, dedication and togetherness,” Fuente said of his young players.
Virginia Tech needed to play and win Saturday’s game because its game scheduled for Sept. 15 against East Carolina was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
Marshall’s Sept. 15 game at South Carolina also was canceled, making Saturday’s game possible, along with some serious inducements for the Thundering Herd — $300,000 for Saturday’s game, plus a game with Virginia Tech in Huntington in 2023 and in Blacksburg in 2024.
The Hokies led 31-6 at halftime, and Marshall was done. Tech played perhaps its most complete game of the season, certainly in the second half of a season that was in danger of becoming its worst since 1993.
Instead, the Hokies have finished the regular season with two strong performances.
They are what their record says they are, 6-6. Still, they’re better now than they were at 4-6.
“Winning makes a difference, I’m not kidding you,” senior defensive tackle Ricky Walker said. “There’s more swagger in the locker room.”
Fuente is in his third season in Blacksburg, and things have gone in an interesting direction. His first team was 10-4 and played in the ACC championship game. Then came a 9-4 season and now this 6-6 year with either a 7-6 or 6-7 ending ahead.
This also has been an unusual season. Early entries into the NFL took some of the Hokies’ best defenders. Injuries sidelined or severely limited several players on offense and defense. Other players have transferred and one defensive starter was dismissed from the team.
“This season, we faced tons of adversity — people quitting, not doing right, getting hurt,” quarterback Ryan Willis said.
Saturday, Tech’s starting defense consisted of nine players with limited experience: a true freshman, three redshirt freshmen, one true sophomore and four redshirt sophomores.
Regardless of the outcome in the bowl game, the extra weeks of work will be significant for the players and coaches. It’s essentially an early spring practice.
“We need the time in the weight room when we’re not practicing,” Fuente said. “The extra developmental time is going to be huge for us. Getting the chance for those guys to practice and stay together, and I really do think this group enjoys each other’s company. Sometimes when you go through hard times, it unifies people or divides them.”
Fuente sees a more unified team each week.
Virginia Tech’s young defense has paid a high price in misplays, breakdowns and losses this season.
Sometimes, though, you pay that cost now to earn dividends later. The Hokies should be among the favorites to win the Coastal Division of the ACC in 2019.
And barring another natural disaster, the Hokies shouldn’t need to add a game next year to keep their bowl streak alive.
Quarterback Ryan Willis of Virginia Tech threw four touchdown passes before halftime in the Hokies’ 41-20 victory over Marshall at Lane Stadium. It was the Hokies’ sixth victory of the season, making them eligible for a bowl game.