December 29, 2016 marked a first for me (and Joshua, too). I attended my very first college bowl game. The first bowl that I ever saw Virginia Tech play in was a rather disappointing experience. We lost the Peach Bowl from the 1980 season, to Jim Kelly and “The U”. I was rather pleased that I hadn’t been talked into that college road trip thing for the event. The thought had occurred to me during the Beamer Era as our bowl appearances began to become regular events, but none were ever close enough for me to throw the coin. It sort of seemed like choosing between Christmas gifts for the kids, and me going mondo solo to a football game in some strange location.
Well, the Belk Bowl changed that for several reasons the biggest one being that Josh and I had credentials to cover the game from the press box. Remember I was talking Hokie Bucket List stuff? Well, I think Bowl Game attendance is in there somewhere, does that count? Well, this weekend wasn’t a bowl game event. Josh and I loaded up into his car and headed east on I-66 and then around 495 to Exit 16 on I-495 of the Capital Beltway. We were there in plenty of time to get to the Gray Lot to crank off our 15 minute walk up hill to get to FedEx Field. What we didn’t anticipate was that the professional planners in charge of the parking arrangements at that august edifice of sporting events would fail to recognize that both fan bases have a very heavy presence in the National Capital region, both teams’ allotments of tickets had been sold out, and both fan bases are known for their vast and expansive tailgating experiences.
What transpired after arriving at the exit at 3:40 was a nearly one hour 60 yard slug up the exit. Well, we finally got parked fairly close to the little hidden path through the woods to the main road into the stadium. Josh took a picture of it from the other side to make sure we had a reference point. What sort of good that was going to do us at 1:00 or so in the morning when we would finally get back to that location was beyond me, but I wasn’t going to ask. It was the thought that counted, I guess.
The walk from the lot to the stadium wasn’t too bad, but it sure seemed to be uphill the entire way. Then finding the Media Entrance and the Will Call was an adventure in walking around the stadium until we ran into media trucks and a line of people with computers and cameras.
After asking some questions and getting some directions as we made our way through all of the tony presidential suite entrances, we found ourselves in the Press Room. We checked in and found that our seats, supposedly right next to each other, were also separated by a massive pillar and a dead end to the row for each. I didn’t see Josh for the entire game except a bite to eat at halftime.
So I set up the laptop, and the camera and started taking pictures, and waiting. Warmups are always interesting to me. I missed being down on the field so I could see the players’ faces, and hear the conversations. You can tell a lot about how a team is going to perform by how they act during the pregame routine; at least I think that I can.
The kickoff was something interesting. The first hubub was the coin flip, and Frank got to do the honors. Tech won, and deferred but seeing Frank Beamer out there supporting his team really charged up the crowd.
Of course waiting for the kickoff can be a bit tedious and nervous. This one gave me a giggle as I wondered what was going through each player’s mind as things got moving.
Eventually we got to the big moment for the offense. Josh Jackson got his first official college snap in the books. It was a bit of a trying moment, and the play clock was ticking rapidly to 0. The play did happen though other than butterflies it didn’t go very far.
Of course the game did go on, and there were some triumphs and real challenges. Grier was a serious pain to the defense. He was probably far better than most of us predicted. The coat of rust was light, and his experience behind center showed. #7 was a serious problem for the entire game.
But we also had our pleasant surprises besides Josh Jackson. Cam was catching nearly everything thrown to him, and running back Deshawn McClease made a convincing debut.
Steven Peoples also made his presence known as a running back, not a full back with some power pushes and nifty moves to go with them.
But scores and counter scores, mostly in the second half, lead to inevitabilities. Tech was only up one score, fortunately a touchdown, but the Mountaineers had the chance to tie it up in a final drive after Joey inexplicably missed a chance to ice the game with a 32 yard chip shot. That’s for another time, but Joey’s gotta fix that problem fast.
The defense needed a stop, and two big tackles on old #7 were needed. The last efforts came from none other than the quiet, unnoticed high performer for the game, Andrew Motuapuaka.
Andrew Motuapuaka shined in that last drive. He kept the Mountaineer QB off balance and hurried. Eventually Andrew registered the critical sack to end the game somewhere around the Tech 24 or so. I am not sure and after the penalty flags flew, both on West Virginia, the game ended right there.
There seems to be a new away game tradition with the team since Coach Fuente took over. The players all head for the Hokie Nation section and thank the fans, pose for selfies, cheer for the cameras, and generally celebrate a win with their fans. Everyone wins.
And finally after a panicked phone call, he disappeared to the interview room while I took these shots, I met up with Josh for the post game press conference. NOTE: Please pardon the fuzzy nature of these, the phone camera in low light with the flash off.
Terrell Edmunds relieving our worries, and joking a bit about the bad cramp in his leg, and wanting to get back into the action. He was genuine, funny, and it was good to see him full of fight.
And we are going to leave you with this shot, it’s interesting in its own way. There is Coach Justin Fuente, smiling, and standing off to the side as his players and the sideline folks share the joy of the win and the fun of possessing the Black Diamond for another few years.
It’s White Out and Military Appreciation Day coming up on Saturday. We get two flyovers, and you’ll have to wait for those pictures. Let’s say it might be good to bring some ear plugs for the opener.