Saturday, December 27, 2014

Virginia Tech: 2014 Military Bowl Champions

Once the trophy presentation was over, and the son with the famous last name stood soaking wet from a postgame water bath and the oft-forgotten running back cradled his MVP award, Virginia Tech director of football operations John Ballein got up in front of the entire team and began to read a note written by Hokies Coach Frank Beamer.

The 68-year-old Beamer had just spent Saturday’s Military Bowl wearing a headset in the coaches’ booth, unable to speak loudly or for long stretches as he recovers from throat surgery performed earlier this month. This message, though, ended in familiar fashion — with Frank Beamer gyrating his hips and arms as part of a routine linebacker Deon Clarke later dubbed “The Little Twist.”

“He told the players in the locker room, ‘He may not be able to talk, but he can still dance,’ and went through probably one of his greatest dance routines this year,” Shane Beamer said.

Virginia Tech had plenty of reason to celebrate after storming to a 33-17 win over Cincinnati at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, none more important than salvaging its 22nd straight winning record (7-6) in a season that will ultimately be remembered as disappointing.

But the immediate story lines revolved around Frank Beamer, who had been detached from the program during bowl preparations this month and only arrived in Annapolis on Friday night. He had only missed one other game throughout his 28-year tenure at Virginia Tech – a 30-13 win over Tulane in 1989 when then-associate head coach Billy Hite led the Hokies while Beamer recovered from a heart procedure.

Shane Beamer, the program’s associate head coach since 2011, took over his father’s sideline duties Saturday and the team responded with a throwback performance befitting the program’s “Beamerball” moniker.

“I’ve had many proud moments in my time at Virginia Tech, but this is one of my proudest,” Frank Beamer said in a statement read by Shane. “When you consider the constant adversity we’ve had to endure this season, it’s just rewarding that we believed in one another and continued to fight our way through it.

“I want to personally thank the players and the coaching staff [for] their focus and hard work going into and during this bowl game. I thought we looked like a prepared football team that played with passion.”

Junior tailback J.C. Coleman earned MVP honors, rushing for a season-high 157 yards and one touchdown even after Virginia Tech lost center David Wang and fullback Sam Rogers to injury. He also spearheaded a powerful 75-yard drive to begin the second half, pounding the ball on the ground before a play-action touchdown pass from one yard out to tight end Ryan Malleck.

The tide then turned for good with one of the wackier plays this season.

On Cincinnati’s ensuing drive, Clarke sacked and stripped Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel. Sophomore Nigel Williams, a 291-pound defensive tackle, grabbed the loose ball and rumbled down the field before fumbling at the 12-yard line. But defensive back Greg Stroman (Stonewall Jackson) scooped up the ball in full stride and dragged Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Moore into the end zone to give the Hokies a 30-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

“That was a gut puncher,” said Coleman, who had at least 95 rushing yards in the past four games after being relegated to a minor role midway through this campaign.

Kiel, who threw for 233 of his 244 yards in the first half, did not return after that hit due to concussion-like symptoms and Cincinnati (9-4) never recovered. The Bearcats were forced to use Wildcat formations and fourth-string quarterback Michael Colosimo because of an injury to back-up Munchie Legaux and a suspension to third-string signal caller Jarred Evans.

Virginia Tech’s defense gave up more than 300 yards before halftime, including seven plays of more than 15 yards in the first quarter, and allowed 489 yards for the game. But first-half interceptions by cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Chuck Clark helped stem Cincinnati’s early momentum.

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler sat next to Beamer in the coaches’ box and noted his boss was “very into the game,” and made sure to tell Loeffler, “Just make sure we run the ball here,” when Virginia Tech took its commanding third-quarter lead and Kiel left the game.

“There were a few grunts and groans on some plays. I did hear that over the headphones,” Shane Beamer added.

By the time Frank Beamer got to the locker room, though, any concerns took a backseat to the dance moves that have become a comic tradition after every win this year.

“We knew how badly he wanted to be out there,” quarterback Michael Brewer said. “He can’t say much right now, but he shook my hand, gave me a hug and said that he’s proud of me, and that was a special feeling.”
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