MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — This one was setting up to be such a great story.
Embattled team falls behind big early, then rallies around the aggressiveness of its wide-eyed, gratitude-soaked interim coach to record a victory none of them would forget. Read all about it: Chemistry forged by hardship conquers all. Look out, UVa, the revitalized Hokies are coming for you next.
Virginia Tech will take some of those elements from Saturday’s 38-26 loss to Miami. But not the most important one.
“I told them before the game started, I told them when the game ended: a loss is a loss,” said J.C. Price, who was anointed Tech’s interim head coach after Justin Fuente’s ouster on Tuesday. “There’s not going to be an asterisk.”
That’ll apply to him and the players, but he’s not the boss of you or me or anyone outside that locker room. I’m going to litter this one with asterisks, fill it with more stars than the Milky Way.
Because this is different. They’re all feeling their way through this, seeking their own motivations — and finding them.
There are a whole bunch of ways a 5-5 team can become 5-6. The Hokies did it in a dignified way, and that matters. It provides some hope that they can end this regular season with a competitive game against their in-state rivals.
It sure didn’t appear that was going to be the case early. Tech’s defense started atrociously, particularly in the secondary. The Hurricanes, led by strong-armed second-year freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, scored touchdowns on their first four possessions. They needed just 20 total plays to do it.
“Obviously, it was disappointing,” Price said. “We weren’t ready to play. And that landed squarely on my shoulders, and there’s no excuse.”
Then came the fork in the road. The Hokies trailed 31-13 early in the third quarter and looked like they might allow Miami to name the final score.
But the tank job never came. Tech scored a touchdown, then Price boldly called for an onside kick, and the Hokies got that, too. Another touchdown cut the Miami lead to 31-26 and had fans at rain-soaked Hard Rock Stadium getting restless.
“We had the juice,” said Tech quarterback Connor Blumrick, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for 132 yards. “I thought it was ours. We had the momentum.”
They’ve had it more than a few times this season. Enough to beat North Carolina, come back against West Virginia, grab a late lead against a good Notre Dame team and put Syracuse in a vise.
Only one of those games was a win, though, because this team is flawed and that juice has been fleeting.
It was again this time. An iffy ball spot — one that couldn’t be reviewed thoroughly because the booth didn’t have the necessary camera angle — gave Miami a crucial fourth-down conversion in its own territory. The Hurricanes went on to score on another long touchdown pass, and Tech had no more responses.
Still, the comeback underscored a theme that’s developed in this group: They care. No matter who’s leading them, they care.
“I think we’re a really close unit, and the adversity we’ve had to go through this season I think has just brought us together,” offensive lineman Johnny Jordan said. “Because I’ve seen teams, when they go through adversity, they tend to splinter and crack, but this team just keeps getting closer together. I love everyone on this team, and I think everyone would have the same opinion.”
They would. And while a loss is a loss, they’ve clearly sustained their motivation. How?
“I think it’s just love for your team and brotherhood,” Blumrick said. “Kind of rallying around each other, doing it for one another, not necessarily for the coach. Just playing for each other, your brothers.”
Too often this season, that hasn’t been enough. Saturday was more of the same. Years from now, we’ll look at the record of the 2021 Hokies and declare that this team was nothing special.