- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

MIAMI — In the days leading up to his team’s 15th consecutive bowl appearance, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was asked what parallels he saw between his Hokies and their opponent, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Beamer explained how the underdog Jayhawks reminded him of his 1995 Virginia Tech team, which shocked traditional power Texas in the Sugar Bowl for the Hokies’ first big bowl game win. He remembered how his Hokies seemed to want it more than the heavily favored Longhorns, how they played as if they had something to prove.

Beamer said his current team would not fall victim to the same complacency.

But Kansas, which had been told for 41 days that it did not belong in the Orange Bowl, proved otherwise, defeating the Hokies 24-21 last night.

“People kept telling us we couldn’t win against this team, that we couldn’t win the big game, that we had no chance,” quarterback Todd Reesing said. “We took that to heart. We like being underdogs.”

Much like the ‘95 Hokies, the Jayhawks came out looking to validate their place. They sacked Hokies quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor a combined four times and limited an anemic Virginia Tech running game to minus-1 yard rushing.

“Everybody talks about Virginia Tech’s defense,” safety Justin Thornton said. “We came out to show we can play defense at Kansas, too.”

No player seemed more fired up than Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib. With a little over five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Talib jumped a timing route by Justin Harper and intercepted a Taylor pass. Talib raced to the goal line, high-stepping into the end zone for the All-American’s fifth interception of the season, his second returned for a touchdown.

When Virginia Tech tried to answer on the next drive, Talib, who was named as the game’s most valuable player, broke up a sure touchdown catch intended for Josh Morgan and later returning a weak-legged field goal attempt by Judd Dunleavy 38 yards.

The second quarter began with Glennon chucking up a wobbler that was picked by Kansas cornerback Chris Harris. Seven plays later, Kansas kicker Scott Webb punched a 32-yard field goal through to extend the Jayhawks’ lead to 10. After Reesing masterfully orchestrated a 10-play, 59-yard scoring drive capped by a 13-yard dart to a crossing Marcus Henry, the Jayhawks seemed to be well in control.

The Hokies seemed to find a new resolve after tailback Branden Ore — suspended for the first quarter for showing up late to a practice in December — took charge late in the second. Ore carried the ball 11 times for 48 yards and capped the Hokies’ first scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown.

The Hokies’ defense mustered some strength in the third quarter, dropping Talib for a six-yard loss when he made a cameo appearance at wide receiver and sacking Reesing three times. In a textbook Beamer Ball moment, Eddie Royal fielded a kick from Kansas punter Kyle Tucker and flipped it to a streaking Harper on the reverse. Harper picked up a wall of good blocks and sprinted 84 yards to the end zone. Four minutes into the second half, the Jayhawks’ 17-point lead had been whittled to three.

Even when Kansas converted a fake punt to keep a drive alive late in the third quarter, D.J. Parker intercepted a Reesing pass. But then the third quarter came to a close, and the fiery Jayhawks regained the momentum.

A few minutes into the fourth quarter, Glennon threw another wounded duck over the middle and into the arms of Thornton, who charged down to the Virginia Tech 2-yard line. Reesing ducked into the end zone on the next play, giving Kansas a 10 point lead.

Glennon led a late rally in the game’s waning minutes, tossing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Harper with three minutes remaining, but Dunleavy’s onside kick bounced into the arms of Kansas receiver Raymond Pendleton.

The loss denied Beamer his first-ever BCS win. The Hokies — whose seniors won two ACC titles and won a program-best 42 games — also fell one game short of breaking a school record for wins in a season and capped a roller coaster ride of a season for the team.

Virginia Tech began the year riding a wave of emotion and memories in the wake of last April’s tragedy, then beating East Carolina 17-7 only to suffer 48-7 loss to LSU. They rebounded to reel off five straight wins and seemed on the verge of a colossal upset of then-second ranked Boston College on Oct. 25. But the Eagles rallied in the game’s final three minutes to win. The Hokies rallied once more, reeling off a five-game run and avenging the loss to Boston College in the ACC championship game for the school’s second-straight conference crown.

Glennon and Taylor’s interception woes — the duo combined to throw for three picks and only one touchdown — will force Beamer and his staff back to square one in the off season.

On the other end, Reesing will glide into 2008 as a legitimate Heisman contender, his team no longer a doormat.

c The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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