BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Reporter
“Michigan never left,” said Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke, following his team’s 23-20 overtime thriller win over Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 3. Many have been asking that question all season because of former coach Rich Rodriguez and his failure to keep the team around the .500 mark during his three years as head coach.
Team 132, as Hoke and many players call the Michigan Wolverine 2011 football team, won 11 games this year, including the Sugar Bowl win. They are only the fifth team in Michigan football history to win 11 games in a season.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana was gearing up for three games in about a week. First up was the Allstate Sugar Bowl, followed by an NFL playoff game between the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints, and finishing up with the Allstate BCS National Championship between Louisiana State University and Alabama University.
The Big Easy was packed with Michigan fans, outnumbering the Hokie fans about 3-1. The Superdome holds 76,468 for a football game. The bowl game didn’t sell out and had about 12,000 empty seats. Still, the Wolverine fans came out in force and when the game had Wolverine momentum, you could definitely hear it.
The football game was one of the more exciting games in the Bowl Championship Series, according to many analysts. It went into overtime and had some very exciting plays. The Virginia Tech Hokies scored first with a couple of field goals.
UM Quarterback Denard Robinson and the offense couldn’t get much going on their opening drives and needed something. When asked about giving up two field goals early and what he changed to get the offense going, Robinson responded, “We knew the defense was stepping up and making big plays. It was time for the offense to step up and make plays, and that’s what we did.” It was considered a success holding the Hokie offense to just field goals, being down 6-0 early.
Robinson and the Wolverine offense did respond, and in quick fashion too. Late in the second quarter, the offense took charge after a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt, getting the ball back. This was their big chance to at least take a tie into halftime, without converting the extra point. They capitalized and Robinson threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Junior Hemingway. With a Matt Wile extra point, the Wolverines had a 7-6 lead.
The special teams came up big on the kickoff as the Hokies fumbled the ball on the return with great field position, near the red zone. The Wolverines took little time in completing a couple of passes, cruising into the red zone, and took a 10-6 lead at half with a Wile 24-yard field goal.
An interception on the second possession for Virginia Tech of the second half resulted in a touchdown for the Wolverines, increasing their lead to 17-6. The game was looking out reach for the Hokies with an 18-yard touchdown reception by Hemingway again. The Hokies found their way back into the game though, as third string kicker Justin Meyer hit a 36-yard field goal to cut the lead to 17-9, which is how the third quarter would end.
The Hokies tied the game early in the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Logan Thomas, and a successful two-point conversion. Thomas threw a two-yard two-point conversion to tie it at 17. A football game was finally alive in the French Quarter. UM kicker Brendan Gibbons hit a 39-yard field goal to take the lead at the four minute mark of the fourth quarter, but with two seconds left, third string kicker Meyer, who hadn’t kicked a field goal in a football game since high school before this one, hit a 25-yard field goal to send it into overtime.
As usual, the overtime rules were the same. Each team has a possession. Virginia Tech won the first possession and started on the 25-yard line. It was very tense, exciting, and in the moment. After a couple of running plays, the Hokie offense opted for a pass play. A 20-yard pass from Thomas to wide receiver Danny Coale was officially called a touchdown.
It looked as if Virginia Tech would go on to win this game if the Wolverine offense couldn’t score a touchdown. Luckily, the touchdown was reviewed and it was overturned, ruling that Coale did not have full possession of the ball, as it hit the ground when he came down. The Hokies settled for a field goal, but Meyer, who hit his previous three, missed a 37-yarder.
Michigan had full momentum. All they needed was a field goal. In fact, Hoke said they “were playing for the field goal, not the touchdown.” The ball was given to running back Fitzgerald Toussaint who accumulated a total of five yards on three rushes. That set up a 37-yard field goal by Brandon Gibbons. He hit it clear through the uprights, sending the Michigan sideline into frenzy. It was the Wolverines’ first BCS win since 1999 in the Orange Bowl and first BCS appearance since 2006.
Junior Hemingway was named MVP, and the win sent the seniors off on a great note. “It feels great to be a part of this team and to end my career with a great win,” said fifth-year senior Mike Martin. Michigan finished ranked number 12 in the BCS and has legitimate shot at the BCS Championship next year. The Wolverines will open up next season against the BCS Champion Alabama Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium. As always, Go Blue!