Saturday night near the Virginia-Tennessee border at Bristol Motor Speedway, Virginia Tech experienced another mountain tradition. The Hokies were taken to the proverbial woodshed.
With the largest crowd in college football history of 156,990 in attendance and millions more tuned in to national television, Tennessee spotted the Hokies a 14-0 first quarter lead, then dominated the rest of the way to put away Tech with relative ease, 45-24.
The Hokies were clearly their own worst enemy, providing an already Top-20 Tennessee squad plenty of opportunities that resulted from fumbles, defensive lapses and undisciplined penalties that short circuited Tech the final three quarters.
Consider the following statistics. Tech lost 5 fumbles on the night, adding to the four they coughed up a week earlier against FCS member Liberty. You won’t win many games against quality opponents with that type of ball handling.
The much ballyhooed Lunch Pail Defense, gave up 45 points on a night they could hardly afford to give up half as many. Bud Foster’d crew has now given up 110 points in its last three games, including 13 to Liberty and 52 to a 6-7 Tulsa team in the Independence Bowl. Tennessee wasn’t intimidated by anything the Hokies brought from the defensive side.
Tech shot itself in the foot with numerous untimely penalties, handing the Vols additional chances with undisciplined extra curricular antics.
For a while Saturday night, as the spectacle in Bristol’s Last Great Colosseum unfolded, Tech looked as if they were headed to the checkered flag inside one of NASCAR’s most iconic venues.
The Hokies got the opening kickoff and mixed up plays well before being stopped near the Tennessee 30. Tech came away empty handed when Joey Slye’s 47-yard fired goal attempt sailed right.
Tennessee went three-and-out before Tech took advantage of a short punt, capping it off with a Sam Rogers 7-yard touchdown run to go up 7-0 with 4:32 left in the opening quarter.
Another three-and-out by the Vols set up Travon McMillan’s 69-yard run down the left side to put Tech up 14-0. McMillan finished the night with 127 yards on the ground. The Hokie Nation was ecstatic as the Tennessee faithful looked on in disbelief.
Then, the Hokies crashed coming out of turn one.
Tech, in position to go up by three scores, coughed up the football and Tennessee was in the end zone moments later to cut the deficit to 14-7. The Vols followed with a 40-yard run by quarterback Joshua Dobbs and a 38-yard bomb from Dobbs to Josh Malone that tied things at 14 with 9:32 left in the second quarter. Like 8-time Bristol NASCAR winner Rusty Wallace, Tennessee kept the pedal to the metal.
The Vols eventually went up 31-14 before Tech stopped the bleeding with a Slye field goal from 26 yards in the third quarter.
Tennessee added two more scores to go up 45-17 before Tech tacked on a meaningless score late in the fourth quarter well after the outcome was settled.
The game, which ended just past midnight, had been planned for years and left nothing to the imagination as Bristol Motor Speedway officials put on the Broadway-like production.
Former Tech head coach Frank Beamer commented on the sideline that the game was a natural rivalry, and with both schools being equal distance from Bristol, it would be great to see the showdown continued in future years.
But for Tech, which remained winless all-time against SEC ranked teams, they must surely realize that costly mistakes at this level rarely end up with success.