In the days leading up to Virginia Tech's trip to Charlottesville in 2007 to play Virginia in a game that would determine the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division winner, free safety D.J. Parker remembered what some of his elders told him.
Memories can be cruel and cold-hearted in this rivalry, even when it comes to recollections of the last time this game meant more than just bragging rights.
"We never look at U.Va. as our equal. We always looked at it as we're the big brother, they're the little brother and we always beat up on the little brother. That's the way we looked at that 2007 game, too."
Four years later, No. 24 U.Va. (8-3 overall, 5-2 ACC) is still looking to get back on the right track against Tech, but there are signs the gap may be closing. U.Va. will host No. 6 Tech (10-1, 6-1) on Saturday with the division crown and a trip to the ACC championship game again on the line, and a Tech winning streak in the rivalry that has ballooned to seven games in play.
Josh Zidenberg, a Poquoson High graduate, witnessed firsthand the dramatic fall from that high point in U.Va.'s program during the '07 season, which saw the Cavaliers finish 9-4 and get to the Gator Bowl, to the 3-9 collapse in the '09 season.
He was a member of the team from '04 through '07 — never beating Tech during his playing days — and he stayed on at U.Va. as a graduate assistant in '08 and '09 — again never tasting victory against the Hokies.
"I was talking with a friend the other day and I said I knew I was getting old because the fifth-year seniors now were the last group of guys that were there when I was playing in that 2007 season," said Zidenberg, who now works in Virginia Beach.
Despite the passage of time, he still has vivid memories of the '07 game, which Tech led just 23-21 early in the fourth quarter before pulling away with two scores, including a 5-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a Hampton High graduate.
It was the conclusion of what had been a one-of-a-kind regular season for U.Va., which won an NCAA-record five games by two points or less that season, and defeated Miami 48-0 in its last game in the Orange Bowl.
"We had a really mature team that year, a really focused team," Zidenberg said. "We never had a moment where things were too big for us. We were able to handle it all."
Though he may not have been a star, Zidenberg saw his fair share of playing time in the '07 game. He played fullback, kickoff returner, tailback in U.Va.'s two-minute offense and he also had roles on the kickoff coverage, punt return and punt coverage teams. He finished with four kickoff returns for 85 yards, a tackle and a catch for two yards.
"It was probably one of the best teams I played on in my whole career," Zidenberg said. "I think that was the first time since my freshman year (Tech) had more of a respect for us, knowing it wasn't just going to be an easy, pushover game. We had a team that was comparable to (Tech) and could play at their level."
Like Zidenberg, Parker has moments he'll never forget from the '07 game, which Tech entered riding a three-game winning streak after having Bowl Championship Series national title game hopes dashed at home in October in a last-minute 14-10 loss to Boston College. Parker recalls U.Va. quarterback Jameel Sewell talking a good game, and paying the price for it.
"He was talking a lot that game," said Parker, who had four tackles in '07 against U.Va. "I think (former Tech defensive end and Bethel High graduate) Chris (Ellis) kind of hurt him a little bit once over on the sideline [early in the fourth quarter]. (Sewell) had to come out for a few plays. That was about all from him in that game."
Tech went on to get revenge on BC in the ACC championship game before losing to Kansas in the Orange Bowl to cap an 11-3 season.
That's all ancient history now. On Saturday, Zidenberg will be in Charlottesville — hoping U.Va. can snap a frustrating skid against its most hated rival, get to the conference title and take another step toward an improbable Orange Bowl bid.
"I'm hoping Sunday I can sit there and read the paper and have a whole new feeling about this rivalry with Tech," Zidenberg said. "I think this is the year."
Memories of 2007 U.Va.-Tech game still vivid for Parker and Zidenberg
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