One For The Money

Remember this feeling in '01?

Another one game season. Another early December finale. Another meeting with the Virginia Tech Hokies. A month ago, this one had all the makings of a regular season National Championship game. Slated to be two undefeateds scrapping for a ticket to Tempe, it is now just another BIG EAST battle. The Hokies have nothing on the line while the Canes stand to lose everything.

As October 2002 came to a close the Virginia Tech clung tight to an 8-0 record while the Canes sat pretty at 7-0. The football gods saw both teams inching closer to what could've been a monumental match up. While the Canes racked up four more victories, the Hokies stumbled.

OK, they tripped and fell flat on their faces.

Consecutive losses to Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia took Virginia Tech from a title game favorite to an 18-point underdog against Miami this coming weekend. The highly regards Hokie defense gave up 99 points in their three game skid. A whopping 1,474 yards were given up to these three opponents and it left many wondering if Virginia Tech lost their heart along with this handful of contests.

A bounce back 21-9 win came over in-state rival Virginia, but what does that mean in regards to this regular season finale against No. 1 Miami? Will the Hokies come to play?

Honestly, it shouldn't even matter. With the Canes knocking on the door of another title, there shouldn't be an opponent in America who could take down Miami this Saturday.

Words truly can't put the 33-game win streak into perspective. It is a feat so amazing that it won't be truly appreciated until it ends. When a teams wins that many in a row, it makes one forget what it's like to lose. Those emotions are so far repressed and instead are replaced by a sense joy and pride. Still, the feeling all Canes are experiencing today can't even compare to the elation of winning the next two match ups.

It all starts with Virginia Tech – a team that put a hurting on the Canes five straight in the late nineties and a bunch that is gunning for their second consecutive shot at ruining the Hurricanes' post season plans.

Their first crack came in last year's finale. Miami's trip to Blacksburg, VA looked sealed up at halftime as the Canes lead 20-3. In the fourth quarter the Hokies went on a tear. Trailing 23-10 with 8:33 left on the game clock, Jarrett Ferguson barreled in for the 1-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion later, Virginia Tech had narrowed Miami's lead to one score.

Beamer Ball struck in the form of a blocked Miami punt which led to another Hokie touchdown. The two-point conversion was attempted but Ernest Wilford was unable to haul the ball in for the game tying score. The Canes would keep Tech from another score while bleeding the clock for the longest 6:03 in recent Hurricane history.

One would think that Miami learned a lesson last December in Blacksburg. If you have Virginia Tech on the ropes – pull back and deliver that knockout punch. No way should this team ever have rebounded from a 20-3 halftime deficit. Especially on a day when QB Grant Noel completely a mere 4 passes for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Last season the Hokies' strength was in the running game and special teams. Same story, different year. Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia showed that Tech's defense is suspect. Still, they have two facets of their game which can hurt you – or downright embarrass you if you're not ready.

Against Virginia, running backs Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones were true to form, combining for 199 yards and two touchdowns. A few weeks prior at Syracuse, Suggs was most definitely "touchable" as he carried 19 times for a mere 65 yards and no scores. Hardly a stellar afternoon for a back who considered himself one of the nation's elite and deemed Virginia Tech a better team than Miami in the preseason.

"We can beat Miami. We are the best team in the conference," said Suggs in an August 2002 ESPN chat.

Maybe he meant best team in the conference with three losses. There might be some truth to that. As far as being able to beat Miami, that remains to be see. A handful of the last thirty three teams that faced the Canes had the ability to take down the best in the land – but the all failed. Right game plan, inability to execute. It's a common theme for Hurricane opponents in this day and age.

Any foe can walk into the Orange Bowl, gunning for a win. Achieving that goal is another story. Teams have faced Miami fully healthy, coming off of their best practices of the season, with the right mindset and drive to win – yet have come up short. Saying it and doing are nowhere near the same. Suggs has made it clear that he believes the Hokies are the best in the conference. Saturday is his chance to prove it.

No. 22 will face a Miami defense that has surrendered some yards this season. Florida State's Greg Jones left the Orange Bowl with 189 yards under his belt – and a loss. Avon Cobourne took the Canes for 175 – and a loss as well. Common theme that conveniently gets lost in the shuffle. Miami might give up the yards on the ground but will suffocate the aerial attack and has walked away victorious 33 games straight.

Losing this game is not an option for Miami. This team didn't come this far to flinch at the final challenge. Sixty minutes of football are all that is keeping the Canes from heading back to the National Championship game. The coaches understand this and will earn their money this week keeping their players level headed and ready for one final regular season challenge. Ultra Canes like Ken Dorsey, Brett Romberg, William Joseph, Jerome McDougle, Sherko Haji-Rasouli and Jamaal Green are just a few of the seniors who will run through that Orange Bowl tunnel for the final time on Saturday. The same can be said for Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Jon Vilma, D.J. Williams – a handful of NFL bound underclassmen who may forgo their remaining years of eligibility at Miami.

You think anyone is going to come out flat? These guys are riding a 21-home game win streak. Does anyone thing it will end on Saturday? They didn't come this far to stumble now. It is inconceivable. Everyone is fully aware of what is at stake.

Last year's seniors had an unexpected crack at No. 12 Washington as their Orange Bowl finale. The massacre ended 65-7 and Miami played a near flawless game. In 2000 Miami's final home appearance came against Boston College. They Canes made a 52-6 statement that fell on deaf BCS ears. Still, Miami's seniors and big times players shone brightly in their final curtain call of the season.

Virginia Tech has Miami's respect and attention. They'd have it tenfold if they could've rolled in undefeated in a do or die match up for the ages. Their three losses have dimmed the luster this highly anticipated meeting originally had. The Hokies can talk of rolling down south to play the role of spoiler, but that can only be fabricated for so long. Truth be told they lost three games because they are not the team many expected them to be. A win over Miami won't save their season. Only a do over for the month of November would.

Even in Virginia Tech is clinging tightly to that spoiler role; it won't be any greater than Miami's Tempe tunnel vision. One win away from having a crack at back to back championships. Four quarters from another perfect regular season. Sixty minutes away from putting an exclamation on a 34-game win streak. You don't blow an opportunity like this. These players are experiencing a once in a lifetime moment. They know this and they will come to play on Saturday.

Remember that breakout game everyone has been waiting for? Here it is. Season finale. The seniors' last stand. One game away from the preseason goal of a Fiesta Bowl berth.

Canes will roll. See y'all in Tempe.

Miami 41 Virginia Tech 20

Born and raised in Miami, FL and a Grassy.com guest columnist since 1995, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at chris@grassy.com

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