One day that changed a series

With Virginia Tech traveling to face Miami in the ABC National TV game this weekend, it’s hard not to think back to September 23, 1995.  That afternoon Virginia Tech hosted Miami at a much different looking Lane Stadium.  The South End Zone seating consisted of some rickety old bleachers just below a scoreboard that was certainly not a Jumbotron.  There was no Enter Sandman, no expansion of the press box, and it was a Big East Game, not an ACC game.

While this week’s game is in primetime on ABC, that game was produced by Charlotte, North Carolina based Creative Sports under the umbrella of the “Big East Network.”  ESPN’s top game caller Chris Fowler will call tomorrow night’s game.  22 years ago, the play-by-play guy was Mike Breen, who is now ESPN/ABC’s top NBA voice.

There also had never been a Virginia Tech team beat Miami.  So mismatched were the two programs that in the first Big East Game between the two in 1992, Miami rolled up a 31-3 lead at Halftime behind eventual Heisman Trophy winner Gino Toretta on their way to a 43-23 win that wasn’t that close.  It literally was like watching a Varsity team take on a team of middle school students.  Miami was fast and physical.  Virginia Tech, slow and confused.  Fans began exiting the building at halftime and the second half was played before a mostly empty stadium.

But, September 23rd, 1995 changed everything.  After 1992’s 2-8-1 season, Virginia Tech had revamped its coaching staff and recruited better players including Lynchburg’s Cornell Brown, the first top tier recruit Frank Beamer landed and the one he’ll tell you set his program on an upward trajectory.  But, Beamer had still not figured out the puzzle known as Miami losing 21-2 in 1993 and 24-3 in 1994.

Granted in 1995 Miami was in a bit of transition.  Former Coach Dennis Erickson had been fired and former Defensive Coordinator Butch Davis had returned as head coach.  Davis was saddled with NCAA problems put in motion by Erickson that would eventually cripple his program for a few seasons.  But, Miami didn’t lack for talent.  They had a pretty fair middle linebacker on the field that day named Ray Lewis who finished with 15 tackles.

It was classic Virginia Tech under Beamer in the late 1990s.  Whereas the defense was soft and confused in 1992, they were fast and physical in 1995 holding Miami to just 51 yards rushing and 7 points, none in the Second half.  Meanwhile, Tech pounded out 300 yards on the ground.  Quarterback Jim Drukenmiller wasn’t great, completing just 9 of 16 passes for 97 yards, but he didn’t need to be as then co-defensive coordinators Bud Foster and Rod Sharples held Miami to a single touchdown on a five yard run in the second quarter.

To be certain today 13-7 would be considered a pretty boring game, but considering where Virginia Tech had come from, the win set off a raucous celebration at Lane Stadium.  At one point it appeared that the television cameraman on a truck roaming the sidelines was in serious peril when a celebratory mob surrounded the truck and began rocking it.  It also marked the first of five consecutive wins for Virginia Tech in the series including the previously unthinkable, a 43-10 beat down in 1999 when Virginia Tech was ranked second in the country.

Miami rebuilt it’s program and won three straight from 2000 – 2002 in the middle of their run to one National Championship and one National Runner-up finish.  Davis, however, wasn’t around to see the fruits of his labor.  He made a bad career move and jumped to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.  His offensive coordinator Larry Coker has a college national championship on his head coaching resume, but Davis does not.  To this day, Davis will tell anyone that he regrets not staying at Miami.  In another twist of irony, the now smoldering dumpster fire known as the Cleveland Browns last made the playoffs with who as their head coach?  Yes, Butch Davis.

Since 1995, Virginia Tech has won 14 of the last 22 meetings.  The two schools have split the last four games.  There hasn’t been a game between the two were both were ranked since 2011.  This is the first meeting on ABC since 2011 and the first time the two have played on November 4th since 2000, a 20-point Miami win.  Miami still leads the overall series 20-14, but you have to wonder whether there would be an expanded stadium, new indoor practice facility, and a home game atmosphere to rival any in the country had Virginia Tech not solved a riddle on September 23, 1995 that had to that point been unsolvable.



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