- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech’s seniors want to make an impression in today’s Gator Bowl, even though most of them have no chance of playing in the NFL.

Yes, the No.12 Hokies (10-2) face No.15 Louisville (9-2) in Jacksonville, Fla., with something to prove.

“This could be the last game I ever play, you know,” said Hokies offensive tackle Jimmy Martin of Fairfax. “Certainly, it’s the last game I’ll ever suit up for Virginia Tech, so it’s extra motivation to leave it all out there.”

The Hokies, especially the seniors, are unhappy about losing to Florida State in the ACC Championship game and, as a result, missing out on a BCS bowl game. And they know that Virginia Tech hasn’t won a bowl in three seasons, when it beat Air Force 20-13 in the San Francisco Bowl.

“I remember my freshman year … how emotional the seniors were,” defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis said. “Now it’s the end of the road for me, and I just want to feel the same way those seniors felt.”

Lewis played in the Hokies’ last two bowl defeats — losses to California and Auburn, each by three points.

“It’s a challenge. We have to come in with a chip on our shoulder,” he said.

Said defensive end Darryl Tapp: “It’s not enough just to get there. We still have a lot of stuff on the line.”

That stuff includes the possibility of an 11-win season, only the third in Tech history. The Hokies must also beat the Cardinals to have a shot at finishing in the top 10 for a second consecutive season.

“We had a lot of opportunities to go to a bigger bowl game. This is what we got — gotta work with it,” Tapp said. “We got to correct this thing.”

The sense of urgency is echoed by the coaching staff.

“I think it’s huge,” coach Frank Beamer said. “Anytime you say you’re doing something for the third time in your football history, that’s pretty significant.”

As for the Cardinals, they are in their eighth straight bowl and will be playing for their 30th win in three seasons.

The game pits Virginia Tech’s top-ranked defense against the nation’s third-highest-scoring offense.

A field goal would put Louisville over the 500-point mark for only the second time in school history. The Cardinals’ success prompted second-string, redshirt freshman quarterback Hunter Cantwell to say that Louisville can score on any team, providing a challenge to the Hokies defense.

“If that’s what he thinks, that’s what he thinks,” Tapp said. “We’re the top defense in the nation, so we’ve paid our dues, too.”

Hokies senior running back Cedric Humes believes the key to the game is the play of Tech’s running backs, who split just 13 carries in the ACC Championship. If those backs control the ball, they can keep Louisville’s high-scoring offense off the field.

“Running the ball 13 times, I just don’t think that will make it,” he said. “I don’t think this team wants to go out with a loss.”

Especially this senior class.

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