Virginia Tech’s streak of 25 consecutive years playing in a bowl game could have come to an end Friday afternoon, but the Hokies will live to play another game. After a crazy and emotional 34-31 overtime victory in Blacksburg against in-state rival Virginia, the Hokies will get to play one more game at home with a chance to keep their bowl streak alive next week.
Few teams would have enjoyed bringing Virginia Tech’s bowl streak to an end in their home stadium more than Virginia. Virginia had lost 14 consecutive matchups with the Hokies coming into the week, so Virginia fans were careful not to get too enthusiastic about them holding a 28-24 and then a 31-24 lead late in the fourth quarter. And that was for good reason because Virginia squandered their chance to win in the most Virginia way possible in this series.
Down 31-24 and on a 3rd & 10 three plays into the ensuing possession, it looked bleak for Virginia Tech. That was, of course, until Ryan Willis unloaded on a 50/50 ball down the field and Dalton Keene came away with the football for a gain of 45 yards and into Virginia territory.
Two plays later, the Hokies decided to stick to the ground by handing off to Steven Peoples. The call seemed to be a good decision, as Peoples ripped right up the middle for a nice gain, but he fumbled the football into the end zone at the end of his run. With only a Virginia defender around the ball, a simple recovery in the end zone for the Cavaliers and a touchback could have put the game just out of reach. But as so often seems to happen, recovering a loose ball with the game on the line never seems to go the way of a team that has lost 14-straight in this rivalry. Instead, Virginia Tech’s Hezekiah Grimsley swooped in to fall on the ball for a game-tying touchdown in wild fashion.
This game, which once had seen Virginia leading 17-7 only to turn into a back-and-forth chess match in the second half, was heading to overtime. The Hokies opened the overtime period with a field goal to gain their first lead since letting go of a 24-14 advantage early in the fourth quarter. Immediately after starting their overtime possession with a quick gain of 11 yards, Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins got caught in a moment of indecision and lost his grip on the football. The loose ball was recovered by Virginia Tech, sealing the game for the Hokies.
As a program, Virginia has suffered a ton of losses to Virginia Tech, but the nature of college football means the players on any one team have not experienced more than four or five of those losses during any span. Bronco Mendenhall’s players experienced the pain of losing to Virginia Tech just as those who played in a loss 14, nine, or seven, or three years ago did. It never comes with any moral victories in a rivalry like this. And the thrill of victory for Virginia Tech must quickly be bottled up and saved as the focus now shifts to next week’s home game against Marshall.
Virginia Tech and Marshall agreed to a tentative game in Blacksburg for next week as a 12th game on the regular season schedule. The game would only be played if Virginia Tech beat Virginia to get to five wins, putting the Hokies one win shy of becoming bowl eligible. Both Virginia Tech and Marshall had games wiped out by Hurricane Florence earlier this season, and while Marshall didn’t need the extra game for bowl eligibility, they will gladly accept the paycheck that will come with the game (they even would have been paid if they didn’t play next week, which was a nice deal for Marshall).
It sure looks as though Virginia Tech’s bowl streak is going to remain in play. And if Florida State loses to Florida this weekend, the Hokies will, at least temporarily, have the nation’s longest active bowl streak in play.