Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has coached enough games to experience varying degrees of pain on a football field, but nothing may compare to the ghastly horrors his team endured Tuesday night in a 23-20 overtime loss to Michigan.
If he could magically negate any one or two of at least 10 scenarios that didn't go his team's way, the No. 17 Hokies (11-3) might be enjoying their first 12-win season and talking about how it justified being the Atlantic Coast Conference's first at-large bid in the Bowl Championship Series.
Instead, new levels of heartache were achieved.
"I'm about half sick right now," Beamer said after the game.
Virginia Tech's defense surrendered just 184 yards to No. 13 Michigan (11-2), which got just 117 yards passing and 13 yards rushing from normally dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson. It was his lowest rushing yardage in a game in two years as a starter.
It has been more than 20 years since the Hokies gave up fewer yards to an opponent and lost. In 1991, North Carolina State had 180 yards in a 7-0 win. Still, there was too much misfortune for Virginia Tech to overcome.
There was the wild final minute of the first half, which included a 45-yard touchdown catch by Michigan wide receiver Junior Hemingway after free safety Eddie Whitley whiffed on a chance at an interception, a lost fumble on the ensuing kickoff by Virginia Tech's Tony Gregory and a fake field-goal attempt by Michigan that wound up with a completed pass from holder Drew Dileo to lineman Jareth Glanda.
The drive that ended with Hemingway's unlikely touchdown reception was kept alive by a roughing-the-punter penalty by Virginia Tech's James Hopper, who also had a roughing penalty in the ACC championship loss to Clemson.
Virginia Tech's Justin Myer, who was handling place-kicking duties only because Cody Journell and Tyler Weiss had been suspended from the team, made his first four field goals from 37, 43, 36 and 25 yards to keep Tech in the game. His 37-yard kick in overtime sailed wide right.
"I wish we had come out on the winning end, but it was a fun game to be a part of," Myer said. "This whole season, I didn't expect to be put in this situation. I didn't expect to be kicking field goals here in the Sugar Bowl."
Myer might not have been in a position to have to try to win the game for Tech in overtime if not for a false-start penalty on left guard Greg Nosal on Virginia Tech's final drive in regulation.
The penalty came on third-and-2 from Michigan's 8-yard line with less than a minute left, and ultimately served to set up Myer's 25-yard game-tying field goal, as opposed to keeping Virginia Tech in position to get a first down and potentially get into the end zone.
Receiver Danny Coale, who led all players with eight catches for 117 yards, also will have some of the most heartbreaking memories from the game. His failed attempt after a Virginia Tech timeout to run for a first down on a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from Michigan's 48 midway through the fourth quarter will stick with him.
Beamer said the fake punt was set up to give Coale the option to run for a first down, or punt rugby-style, if necessary.
"If you could go back, I'd take a couple of decisions back … knowing how things worked out," said Beamer, whose program fell to 2-6 in BCS-caliber games.
On the same drive that ended with the failed fake punt, running back David Wilson was whistled down for no gain on second-and-5 from Michigan's 48, though Wilson contends his knee never hit the ground on the run. If he hadn't been ruled down, he could have been credited with a 5-yard run.
Of course, Coale's near-catch in the end zone on the overtime drive that concluded with Myer's missed field goal will be the image that sticks with Virginia Tech faithful. The officials first ruled that Coale had made a diving, one-handed grab and stayed in-bounds before sliding out of the end zone, but then reviewed and overturned the ruling.
"I knocked the wind out of myself when the ball hit my rib," Coale said. "I thought I had it in there, but I guess I didn't."
Quarterback Logan Thomas "put it in a position where I knew only I could get to it. I just tried to put one arm out and stretch it as far as I can. I got it out there. I just didn't catch it."
Thomas, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 214 yards and an interception to go along with 53 yards rushing and a touchdown, finished the season with 3,482 yards to set Virginia Tech's single-season total-offense record. He surpassed Tyrod Taylor's 3,402 yards last season.
Thomas also became the second Tech quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards in a season, logging 3,013 yards. In 1972, Don Strock had 3,243 yards passing.
Wilson, who had 24 carries for 82 yards, surpassed Ryan Williams for Virginia Tech's single-season rushing yardage record. Wilson finished with 1,709, topping Williams' 1,655 yards in 2009.
After the game, cornerback Jayron Hosley, who had officials overturn an interception in the game and a pass-interference penalty negate another interception, announced his intention to forgo his senior season and turn pro. Wilson said he still hasn't decided whether to return to Tech for his senior season, but he'll make an announcement in the next week.
"I definitely think [the officials] played a factor in this game," Wilson said. "Jayron had a pass-interference call [in the third quarter]. Both of them were fighting for the ball, and it wasn't anything dramatic. They called me down, and then Danny's catch. Those three key plays changed momentum in the game. They definitely played a factor in the way the game turned out."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun