Virginia Tech inches closer to bowl eligible in Beamer’s last hurrah
ATLANTA — In Virginia Tech’s first game since Frank Beamer announced that the 2015 season would be his last, the Hokies outlasted the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 23-21 on Thursday night to move one win away from reaching bowl eligibility for the 23rd consecutive year.
After taking over the program in 1987, Beamer’s Hokies have tallied a winning record in every season dating back to 1993. That’s where the nation’s second longest active bowl streak began.
While Virginia Tech’s win kept them on path to extend that bowl streak, Georgia Tech’s loss was the seventh of the year, which will in all likelihood keep them out of a bowl game the first time since 1996. The 18-year bowl streak was tied with Georgia for the third-longest active streak in the nation.
"I can’t tell you how much this win means," Beamer said. "The players played exceptionally hard. We both did some things we probably didn’t want to do, but in the end, the thing that was very obvious is our players played as hard as they could play … never taking a play off."
The feedback after the game from Virginia Tech players was consistent and emotional when talking about how much this win meant as they play their final games for a head coach who has always been a player-favorite.
"This was a good one," said sophomore linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka, who led the Hokies with 12 tackles in the game. "Emotionally, everybody just embraced each other. This game, we really poured it all out for each other, really just playing for each other and playing for Coach Beamer."
Sophomore receiver Cam Phillips continued: "With him nearing retirement, I think he’s really just enjoying these games and just being with us, and we’re enjoying him. You kind of keep it in the back of your mind just to give you something else to play for, just understanding that these are his last games. We just want to send him out the right way."
Then there was senior quarterback Michael Brewer, who has come back from an early-season broken collarbone to two wins in their past three games.
"We’re trying to make everything right now about him because that’s what he deserves," Brewer said. "He’s done so much for the university, for the football team, for the program. It’s sad to see his incredible career come to an end, but at the same time it’s special that we’re getting to be a part of his last run at it, and we want to make sure he gets sent out on the right note. It’s a special moment we’re all getting to be a part of right now."
One person who has been a first-hand witness to Beamer’s coaching career going back even before Virginia Tech is Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Foster played as a linebacker for Murray State in Beamer’s two seasons as a defensive coordinator for the school. Once Foster graduated, Beamer took over as the head coach and Foster began working as a graduate assistant for the team. When Beamer received the Virginia Tech job, he brought Foster along with him, and he’s been one of the nation’s premier defensive coordinators since he took on the title in 1996.
It was fitting on Thursday night that Foster’s defense once again played its part for the Beamer-led Hokies as they held the Georgia Tech option attack to 3.4 yards per carry for the game and 128 total yards in the final three quarters.
"Probably the best thing about that was we had an open date to kind of grasp the scope of what that announcement was," Foster said of Beamer’s retirement. "Coach Beamer and who he is and what he’s meant to this game and this university and those types of things. It was good for them and even the staff to get away for a couple of days. We all re-grouped and talked about what we can do. We can do things for him; we can do things for each other.
"We’ve developed a tradition here, and they’re going to carry it on."
Beamer has always been known as a stoic coach who rarely lets his emotions get to him, but even he couldn’t ignore the special feeling the win provided in Atlanta. As Beamer and the Hokies walked off of the field after the game, a rather large crowd of Virginia Tech supporters in attendance chanted "Beamer! Beamer! Beamer!" for a head coach who has guided their program longer than the majority of students in Blacksburg have been born.
"I think you always feel it, I can’t lie about that," said Beamer, whose 235 FBS wins are the most among active coaches and 10th all-time. "I told our coaches and players after we made the announcement that we were going to turn our attention to Georgia Tech. That’s the only thing we can control. You put your efforts towards things that you can control. That’s the way we played tonight."
With a big game now looming against the No. 23-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in what will be his last home game next Saturday, Beamer made sure to quickly shift attention from the positives of Thursday night’s win to the importance of next week. A victory would make Virginia Tech bowl eligible and give Beamer one final statement win.
"He danced a little bit," Brewer said of Beamer’s reaction to the win. "He tried to hold it back, but eventually we gave him the special teams ball, and he broke it down a little bit for us."
Dance on, coach. Dance on.