By Andy Andersen
The 132nd rendition of a Wolverines Football Team (10-2, 6-2) knew that they would have their hands full competing against the Frank Beamer coached Virginia Tech Hokies ( 11-2,7-1) and they did.
They stopped Denard’s ground game cold. But Junior Hemingway’s two leaping end zone catches helped make the difference, and earned him player of the game honors.
Here’s Hemingway afterwards: “From the beginning when the coaches first came in we had to buy in and the seniors had to get the rest of the team to do the same thing, Team 132. It was just a hard-fought season. To go out there and do it for the underclassmen who now have a Sugar Bowl championship under their belt and for us to leave with the Sugar Bowl championship, it just shows our hard work, our determination, our resilience. And that’s where most of the emotion came from.”
On his two touchdown catches … “The first one, the play was called. I forgot what the play was. It was corners. So I saw how the DB was playing. I broke it off in front of him. I saw Denard getting ready to throw the ball, but I didn’t know who he was throwing the ball at. He threw it up and No. 1, I didn’t play the ball good. I caught it. I heard the safety coming over; I didn’t know if he was going to take me out or what. Snatched the ball in there, ran it in for six. And the second one, it was an all-goal play and I got behind the safety, and I was thinking in my head: please, Denard, throw this up, please, I want you to so bad. And he threw it up and I made a play on it.”
This season’s Hokies featured the usual tough Tech defense, but also featured well reputed but unreliable special teams, They have a heavy weight quarterback (6’6” and 254 pounds), with wheels generating 416-yards for the season pre game, and 9 TDs. He had achieved completions for 2,799-yards, and a pass completion percentage of 59.2 %, and he added to these numbers Tuesday. He is a good one, among the best the Wolverines have faced this season.
They also had an effective running game, with the tough sledding done by RB David Wilson, who amassed 1,627-yards and 9 TDs pre-game, enough for him to be named ACC player of the year, and second team All-American. He was not as impressive as Wilson.
What they did not have was effective red zone offense. Fortunately.
During this season the Hokies had accomplished something the Wolverines never have, as they beat Appalachian State, but they also had a comparatively soft schedule, facing and subduing the likes of Arkansas State, Duke, and East Carolina, but failing to subdue a tough Clemson team-twice.
They almost laid one on the Wolverines, who sputtered and sputtered offensively though the first half, especially the first quarter. Molk went out early and multiple missed snaps led to Hokie early dominence.
The defense saved the day, not letting the Hokies get TDs, only field goals in the first half, and a single TD in the game. They were red zone masters in that first half when the offense was struggling.
The Hokies came to play. They amassesd 377-yards to M’s 184. Had 22 first downs to M’s 12. The difference was M’s defensive redzone mastery, and Hokie mistakes, like roughing a punter, untimely penalties, missing an overtime fileld goal, interceptions, etc. Kovacs, Morgan and Martin had 11, 10, and 10 stops respectivly. Van Bergen had a very nice defensive game on a admirable effort.
The Hokies Thomas had 9 completions in 28 attempts for 214-yards.
The funky first half offfensive performance stabilized after a great 4th and one red zone stop.
Subsequently, U-M Junior Quarterback Denard Robinson put the offense in gear and marched 96-yards on 11 plays, benefiting from a roughing the punter call. He hit Hemingway for 45-yard TD. The fireworks didn’t stop there.
Fitzgerald forced a fumble on the ensuing KO, Delonte Hollowell recovered it, and Wolverine hopes revived. The drive stalled and Dileo bobbled the snap on a field goal try, took off, and fired up a pass to anyone. Fortunately it came down into the the big mitts of M’s Jareth Glanda who was pass eligible because the pass was deflected by the defense. A 25-yard Brandan Gibbons field goal ensued, and the half ended 10-6 in the Wolverines favor.
In a way, except for schedule difficulty, Michigan and Virginia Tech seemed fairly similar prior to game time, and they certainly shared the fact that both were maligned in the press for being named participants in a BCS Bowl.
Certainly neither of the teams felt they shouldn’t be there, but some of the media preferred to dwell on the subject opinion, and one averred that Michigan being named to the Sugar Bowl was a serious injustice to those that live a few miles east of Ann Arbor. An article named Michigan “The Most Undeserving BCS Team Ever”. What? That’s laughably incredible.
The Spartans had their chance but picked up an additional loss in the Legends Division title game, with the primary lesson being losses count toward playing in lesser Bowls. Consider that the Wolverines were the only bowl qualifying team to play ten bowl teams this season, that their losses to MSU and Iowa were hotly contested, and that they played their best football in November, gaining two unpredicted victories to end the regular season.
The defense showed some vulnurabilty on the edges again, some poor tackling, iffy pass defense, but when it counted they got stops in the red zone. What a change from last year for them.
That the offense could not run the ball well is a credit to Beamer’s offense.
It appeared from the effort the seniors of Team 132 resented sitting home for two years and resented being much maligned, not to mention embarrassed in last year’ bowl debacle, and would strive to leave a legacy of success. The team effort was there after the first quarter through overtime. This was a hard hitting game on both sides.
After the half, the Hokies received stalled, punted, and the Wolverines did likewise. Then Frank Clark grabbed a Hokie screen pass with an amazing leaping catch, a pass interception was cancelled by an interference call, and Robinson again tossed to Junior Hemingway. 17 to 6 seemed a safe advantage, but the third quarter ended 17-9.
In the 4th quarter the Hokies produced an 18-play, 61-yard drive for a TD and converted a two point conversion and it was 17 up. Jake Ryan destroyed a Hokie fake punt, Brendan Gibbons hit a 39-yard FG and M was again leading-20 to 17. But not for long.
The Hokies ended the scoring in regulation with another field goal and it was on to overtime.
The Wolverines won the toss and elected to receive, which meant they would have the last offensive possession in the first overtime, but it was the overturn of an end zone catch called a completion and a TD on the field, that kept the Hokies scoreless in OT, and turned the ball over to the Wolverines offense.
M ran the ball to the middle of the field, and pinned their hopes on another Brandan Gibbons field goal. He calmly supplied the winning points with a 37-yard field goal for one of the most improbable wins of this year, or any year. Final M 23-Virginia Tech 20.
For all the pre-game grousing, this game turned out a classic. Certainly the skill and effort of the Wolverines was pertinent to the victory, and should not be undervalued, but they owe some of it to the inability of the Hokies to score in the red zone, and their special team mistakes. While they hit 4 field goals, they missed the overtime winner. Really not bad for an after thought that was only brought to the stage because of injuries and two other kickers being punished by Coach Beamer.
It was Michigan’s night in a razor close game. These seniors have waited a career for this event, in unbelievable turmoil, and were finally rewarded for their patience and effort after waiting so long in the wings. They have proved exceptional in leadership, character and devotion to the University of Michigan. Eleven wins and a BCS Bowl victory says it all.
Coach Hoke: “It was a great college football game — two teams who played extremely hard, two teams that played for each other. I think Virginia Tech and Coach Beamer, they did an excellent job, when you look at how they defended us offensively. Then you look at the Michigan Wolverines and how our guys stayed together, complemented each other. We talked about playing 60 minutes of Michigan football. We played about 63 and a half, I think. I’m just real proud, real proud of our seniors, real proud of how they took this football team last January and molded it and did a tremendous job. We always have a tremendous legacy of Team 132 that a lot of teams are going to have to try and match up to.
Brady Hoke and his staff have also turned in a remarkable season, as well as the players. Coach Hoke and his staff have made an indelible mark on the Michigan Program and none of it bad.
Thank you Team 132. You will be recalled fondly for ages.
Bring on Team 133!