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McFarling: Say hello to 'The J.C. Price Game'

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Virginia Tech Virginia football

Virginia Tech interim head coach J.C. Price celebrates at the conclusion of Saturday’s rivalry win over Virginia in Charlottesville.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — He kept deflecting the credit to where he wanted it to go, to where it belonged, to those voices down the hall that were whooping it up in the Virginia Tech locker room.

But let’s be honest. This will forever be known as the J.C. Price game.

Tech’s 29-24 victory over Virginia on Saturday really wasn’t all that different from so many games that came before it this season. It was tight. The Hokies played hard, just like they did under Justin Fuente. They showed their many flaws. They made some baffling decisions that cost themselves points. They easily could have lost it.

And that, right there, is where this one dovetailed from West Virginia and Notre Dame and Syracuse and Miami. The Hokies had just a little something extra, and they won.

Price won’t be coaching this team next season. But he’ll be remembered for his enthusiasm on the sidelines on this night, the way he poured his emotions into this game — and his words after it.

“The emotions are there because this is my home,” Price said. “This is my school. And those kids deserve it. Our kids, with what they’ve been through, they deserve to go to a bowl game.

“They fought their tails off. I’m an emotional guy. I tried to be as calm as I can, being that I was in the head coach’s role. I’m just so happy for these kids. Somebody pinch me. I’m so happy. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry. It’s going to be a fun bus ride home.”

If that sounds like a train of thought that was all over this place, well, that’s fitting. This game was all over the place. For four quarters, each team appeared to be trying to gift the game to the other. One play goes differently here or there, and we’re not talking about this as the J.C. Price game. It’s the Brennan Armstrong game instead.

But the Hokies got the field goal to take the lead, the safety to extend it and the fourth-down stop to preserve it. So it is the J.C. Price game.

Price’s influence isn’t something that’s easily measured. The former Tech defensive lineman admits that he probably couldn’t draw up an offensive play if he tried. He entrusted his coordinators to call their own games.

But you knew one thing: These guys were going to play all 60 minutes for him, and all 60 minutes were what this game required. Price exudes pride in all things Tech. He wasn’t going to let these guys forget the legacy they were trying to protect.

As linebacker Dax Hollifield said of Price earlier this week, “He’s me. He’s all of us.”

And when a reporter asked Price about the fourth-quarter safety forced by a Jordan Williams sack, the interim coach spread the love around. To all of them.

“It was Jordan Williams,” Price said. “I was Amare Barno showing up on the pass rush. It was the offensive line for — how many yards did we rush for? It was the running backs. It was both of those quarterbacks playing their butts off. It was Tay[vion Robinson] throwing a pass.

“It wasn’t just one guy. I keep telling people how close we are. That’s what so exciting: Multiple guys listened to that message. And they took it upon ourselves to say, ‘No. Not today.’”

Not today. No quiet bus ride home. No painful reviews of the things they did wrong — and there were plenty. No regrets. No nausea.

“These kids deserve this,” Price reiterated. “We said all along that life’s not always fair. The hand we were dealt with some tough losses and things down the stretch that happened with our team, it was unprecedented. The way those kids just keep coming together, they never splintered. That’s what Virginia Tech’s about. It’s about being a family. They rallied around each other.”

Price identified something else that this school is about, too. The Hokies rushed for 320 yards in this one, with Raheem Blackshear gaining 169 and quarterback Braxton Burmeister bolting for 115.

Against a potent UVa attack, that helped Tech hold a time-of-possession advantage and control the tempo in the second half.

“Any time you rip off runs, it’s demoralizing,” Price said. “I still think this program was built on running the ball. That’s not going to change, if we’re going to be successful. The way this place was built from Frank Beamer and beyond, you need to run the ball.”

They did. With a man who was groomed in that system leading them, an alumnus who now has a game all his own.

Contact sports columnist Aaron McFarling at 540-981-3423 or aaron.mcfarling@roanoke.com.

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