NEW ORLEANS — Danny Coale remained a team player to the end.
In a crowded Virginia Tech locker room, he stood for more than 20 minutes answering questions from wave after wave of reporters, who wanted to know about the senior’s role in a 23-20 overtime Sugar Bowl loss.
He said it was unfortunate his overtime catch was ruled incomplete, that it was a tough way to lose. Watching from the next locker, Jarrett Boykin offered a different perspective.
Across the hallway, in the defensive locker room, cornerback Jayron Hosley offered a similar perspective.
The junior, who announced that Tuesday night was his last game as a Hokie, twice intercepted passes only to see them overturned. On the second, a pass interference call negating what would have been a crucial third-quarter play.
“Both guys were into each other, and the receiver rolled his ankle, and he made it look like he got shoved down,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “That’s what I saw, anyway.”
Then there was the incredible story with a bittersweet ending.
Pressed into duty when the team’s starting and backup kickers got hurt, senior Justin Myer, who had never made a collegiate field goal, went 4-for-4 in regulation Tuesday night.
However, he missed from 37 yards in overtime, as his counterpart, Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons, hit from the same distance to push the Wolverines to victory.
“Right now, the last one’s really all that’s on my mind,” a dejected Myer said as he was consoled by teammates.
Had Coale hung on, it might not have mattered. And it might have been enough to overcome a game full of special teams gaffes.
Facing fourth and 1 on the Michigan 48, with the game tied, it seemed that coach Frank Beamer had a decision to make: Allow Logan Thomas to go with a quarterback sneak, one of their most successful plays, or let Coale punt the ball away, because the Hokies defense had been so dominant.
Instead, in a year where Beamerball seemed to take a vacation, the inexplicable happened.
Coale went in on a fake punt option play, where he can punt the ball rugby style or run it. The rugby punt was something that Tech had practiced, but not yet used in a game. After going for it, Coale was stopped well short.
In the end, a solid defense wasn’t enough to make up for the special teams, and while Thomas and Coale turned in individually solid performances, the Hokies’ offense couldn’t seal the deal in the red zone.
Thomas found a way to carry his team late, though.
The sophomore quarterback took off on fourth an 11, scrambling for a first down, and picked up a pass interference call a minute later on third and goal, allowing him to make a quarterback sneak for a tying touchdown.
Those plays made up for more special teams mistakes in the first half.
After dominating the first 25 minutes of the frame, the Hokies suffered a series of inexplicable letdowns in the final five.
Thomas tried a QB sneak on fourth and inches from the Michigan 4, but the normally safe play didn’t work.
Faced with a 96-yard field, the Wolverines were helped out by a roughing the punter call on Virginia Tech’s James Hopper. Taking advantage of the mistake, Michigan drove the length of the field.
The touchdown represented another breakdown, as Denard Robinson was sent scrambling and heaved a ball up for receiver Junior Hemingway. Eddie Whitley was in position to make the defensive play, but went for the interception, missing and knocking safety Antone Exum out of the play in the process.
Seconds later things got worse as Tony Gregory fumbled the kickoff. Michigan attempted a fake field goal that broke down, but the holder’s throw bounced off Kyle Fuller and into the arms of Michigan lineman Richard Ash.
That led to a real field goal, and it was a 10-6 Wolverines lead at the half.
Hokies running back David Wilson, who entered the game 39 yards away from the school’s single-season rushing record, picked up the mark but on the whole had a disappointing game.
Afterward, Coale said that his five years in Blacksburg flew by.
“I’m kind of like a zombie right now,” he said. “I can’t believe it wasn’t a touchdown. I can’t believe it’s over. The last five years went quickly.”
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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