VaTech squanders Sugar, loses to Michigan 23-20
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By PAUL NEWBERRY
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Virginia Tech wanted to prove itself worthy of a BCS bid.
Instead, the Hokies blew it in the Sugar Bowl.
After squandering numerous chances to race to a big lead in the first half, No. 17 Virginia Tech needed a gutsy comeback just to force overtime. Then, one more miscue - third-string kicker Justin Myer, who made four clutch field goals in regulation, finally missed on his fifth attempt, and Brendan Gibbons knocked through a 37-yarder that gave No. 13 Michigan a 23-20 victory Tuesday night.
The Hokies (11-3) outgained the Wolverines 377-184 in total yards, making quarterback Denard Robinson look downright ordinary. But the most disputed team to land a BCS invitation simply made too many mistakes to pull it out.
While Michigan leaped around and even managed to dump a bucket of water on first-year coach Brady Hoke, Virginia Tech's players collapsed on the field in anguish.
They had a chance to prove all the skeptics wrong.
They let it slip away.
Myer made the last of his field goals from 25 yards with 2 seconds left in regulation, sending the game to overtime tied at 20. It was quite a performance by a kicker who fell into the job when the top two specialists got in trouble off the field - one left at home, the other sent home.
Virginia Tech got the ball first in overtime and appeared to score a touchdown when Danny Coale made a brilliant, one-handed catch as he was tumbling out of bounds. But the replay showed he landed on the line as he pulled the ball in - just a split-second before he dragged his right foot inbounds.
On came Myer, whose 37-yard attempt faded wide right.
Michigan (11-2) failed to pick up a first down. It didn't matter. The Wolverines were already in range for the winning kick.
But don't blame Myer for this one. There were more than enough mistakes to go around, including all sorts of botched plays by Virginia Tech's special teams.
The Hokies ran into Michigan's punter. They fumbled a kickoff return. They turned an ugly pass into a first-down completion after Michigan messed up a field-goal try. And, finally, a fake punt that failed miserably in the fourth quarter, setting up Gibbons for a 39-yard field goal that put the Wolverines ahead 20-17 with 4 minutes remaining.
Virginia Tech, to its credit, drove 83 yards for the tying field goal.
In the end, it was just another loss in a major bowl for the Hokies, who dropped to 2-6 on college football's biggest stages. This one stings a little worse, since there was plenty of criticism when Virginia Tech was invited to the Big Easy over two higher-ranked teams, Boise State and Kansas State.
"I'm about half-sick right now," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "But I'm proud as I can be of our players. I'm proud of the way we battled back. It was not a lack of effort here. It was not a lack of preparation. Our guys played their hearts out. There were just some fluke plays."
Robinson, the Wolverines' thrilling quarterback, didn't do much. He was sacked three times and finished with 13 yards rushing on 13 carries. He completed just 9 of 21 passes for 117 yards, but two of them were touchdowns to the game's MVP, Junior Hemingway, who made a pair of acrobatic catches.
"Too many mistakes," Beamer moaned. "We did some things that weren't in our best interest."
Virginia Tech jumped ahead 6-0 but should've had a bigger lead. Much bigger. On the opening possession, the Hokies marched right down the field to set up first down at the Michigan 4. Then, the first of the major blunders. Wilson got hemmed up in the backfield, kept going backward trying to find some daylight and finally was slung down for a staggering 22-yard loss. Myer's 37-yard field goal was the consolation.
The Hokies took over again after Robinson was picked off by Fuller on a deep throw, then drove the other way on another impressive drive that stalled short of the end zone. Myer hit from 43 yards.
With Michigan just trying to hang on, Wilson broke off a 32-yard run and the Hokies faced fourth-and-1 at the Wolverines 4. This time, they passed on the chance for another field goal, figuring their massive quarterback, the 6-foot-6, 254-pound Thomas, could find a way to pick up a measly yard. Instead, he was stuffed about a foot short of the marker.
At that point, the Hokies had a 185-39 lead in yards but Michigan was still in the game. The Wolverines took advantage, seizing on more costly mistakes.
James Hopper ran into punter Matt Wile and received a 15-yard roughing penalty that kept a possession going. When Michigan faced a third-and-17 predicament, Robinson scrambled away from pressure and lofted a pass down the sideline toward Hemingway. Safety Eddie Whitley raced in, eyeing an interception, but Hemingway yanked the ball away and was gone for a 45-yard touchdown.
Just like that, Michigan had a 7-6 lead.
"I didn't know who (Robinson) was throwing the ball at," Hemingway said. "I heard the safety coming over. I didn't know if he was going to take me out or what. But I snatched it and ran it in for six."
On the ensuing kickoff, J.B. Fitzgerald punched the ball away from Tony Gregory and Michigan pounced on it at the Virginia Tech 26. The Wolverines botched the field goal, forcing holder Drew Dileo to throw up a wobbly pass toward no one in particular. The ball was headed right to Hokies cornerback Kyle Fuller, but he slammed into a teammate and the ball deflected to Michigan lineman Jareth Glanda for an 11-yard completion.
The Wolverines wound up getting a second chance at a chip-shot field goal. Gibbons knocked through a 24-yarder on the final play of the half for an improbable 10-6 lead.
Michigan extended the margin to 17-6 after not one, but two apparent interceptions by Robinson were overturned - and Thomas threw one that stood.
A pass that was initially ruled an interception by Jayron Hosley was negated after a video review showed the ball hit the turf. Then Thomas threw a sloppy pass that was picked off by Michigan reserve linebacker Frank Clark and returned to the Hokies 35.
Robinson got fortunate again, a pass that was picked by Hosley was overturned by an interference penalty on the cornerback. Then, throwing off his back foot, Robinson put up a pass at the rear of the end zone that was pulled down by Hemingway, who just got a foot down for an 18-yard touchdown.
To the Hokies' credit, they didn't fold. Myers booted a 36-yard field goal and Virginia Tech finally got to the end zone on Thomas' 1-yard run with just over 10 minutes left in regulation. The big quarterback tied it on a 2-point conversion pass to Marcus Davis.
Updated January 4, 2012