Virginia was 6 yards from the tying touchdown, 6 yards from igniting Scott Stadium, 6 yards from telling Virginia Tech this time would be different.
But first the Cavaliers needed 2 yards on fourth down, and rather than settle for a field goal, coach Mike London chose to do what his team does best: run the ball.
"It was the opportunity to send the message to our guys up front that if you're going to win championships, if you're going to win games, you've got to be able to knock people off the ball and gain a yard," London said.
Indeed, the ACC's Coastal Division title hinged on Saturday's annual Virginia-Virginia Tech collision, a rivalry the Hokies have owned since joining the conference in 2004.
"I appreciate their philosophy that they want to hammer you," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said of the fourth-down aggression, "but I also appreciate that we want to hammer them back."
Virginia Tech wielded a sledgehammer on this afternoon. The Hokies not only stuffed the Cavaliers' early threat but also dominated them throughout.
The final carnage was 38-0, Virginia's first home shutout in 27 years.
"A little bit shocking," Cavaliers linebacker Steve Greer said of the margin.
Ranked fifth by the Bowl Championship Series, the Hokies aimed to shock Saturday.
All week they heard about Virginia's resurgence this season. All week they read about how this was the Cavaliers' chance to end a seven-game losing streak in the series.
"They had a lot of hype coming in, and it was well-deserved," Tech receiver Danny Coale said. "But we had a lot to prove, too. I heard a lot this week about 'upset alert,' a lot of people picking them."
Uh, one of those people was me. Online, in print, on radio. The Triple Crown of horrid handicapping.
Of course, fans noticed. But so did Tech players and coaches. Assistants Shane Beamer and Curt Newsome needled me pretty good on the field as they headed toward the locker room.
Here was the Hokies' point: They entered this game 10-1 and on target for a fifth ACC championship in eight years. Yet all the buzz was about 8-3 Virginia, which hasn't won the league since 1995.
"The guys definitely took it as a slap in the face," quarterback Logan Thomas said. "Nobody was talking about us."
"We weren't getting any respect," defensive end James Gayle said, "so we had to take it."
With two sacks and three tackles for loss, Gayle, a sophomore from Bethel High, was part of a defense that seized respect, and it started on that first-quarter fourth down, when linebacker Jack Tyler blitzed past tight end Zach Swanson and upended Kevin Parks a yard shy of the first down.
The Hokies led by a mere 7-0, but the tone was indelibly set.
Tech outrushed Virginia 183-30, indicative of its interior dominance on both sides of the ball. David Wilson gained 153 yards and sprinted 27 and 38 yards for touchdowns. No Cavaliers tailback gained more than 5 yards on a carry.
Moreover, Tech created four turnovers and committed none.
"I give our defensive crowd a lot of credit," Beamer said.
Especially coordinator Bud Foster, who designed inside blitzes that unsettled Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco and sacked him a season-high four times.
Start to finish it was, by far, the Hokies' most complete performance of 2011 and sends them to an ACC championship game rematch with Clemson riding a seven-game winning streak.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers await their first bowl bid since 2007 — the Music City in Nashville is most likely — but ponder the still-undeniable gap separating them from Tech.
"We have won some close games, some exciting games," guard Luke Bowanko said, "and it stinks to come out the last (regular-season) game against our rival and play less than what we're capable."
As Bowanko and his teammates trudged to the locker room, Hokies defenders such as Eddie Whitley and Antone Exum dug up some Scott Stadium turf and placed it in their trademark lunchpail.
"They have improved," Beamer said of Virginia. But "tonight was our night."
"There was a lot of emotion on their side," Coale said. "But there was a lot of emotion on our side, and I don't think a lot of people saw that. …
"It was more us going out and proving we're worthy of playing for the ACC championship."
Worthy and then some.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun