Virginia Tech to meet Kentucky in Belk Bowl in ACC-SEC clash

Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker (2) is hit by Virginia linebacker Noah Taylor (14) as he throws the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Virginia Tech and Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia Tech came into Friday’s game as one of the hottest teams in college football.

The Hokies had won six of seven and just put together their first back-to-back shutouts against Power 5 opponents in school history. They had not allowed points since the third quarter of a win over then-No. 22 Wake Forest, the program’s first win over a ranked opponent at Lane Stadium since 2009.

All those good vibes died on Friday afternoon as Virginia fans celebrated the end of Tech’s 15-game win streak in the Commonwealth Cup at Scott Stadium.

The disappointment over the 39-30 loss was etched all over Justin Fuente’s face as he tried and failed multiple times to share a few thoughts at the top of his postgame press conference.

“I’m really proud of our kids and the effort they put on the field today,” Fuente said. “We played hard, we didn’t always play well.”

Tech wide receiver Tre Turner, who is normally one of the most talkative and engaging players on the roster, could barely put a sentence together.

“I just wanted to win the football game, not worried about the streak,” Turner said when asked about his emotions.

Turner’s sullen demeanor said otherwise.

Virginia Tech’s locker room was a quiet place after the game as Fuente gathered his players around for some words of encouragement that were hard for them to embrace in the moment.

“I told them I loved them,” Fuente said. “I was proud of them.”

Fuente also acknowledged the challenge ahead for Tech's young locker room.

While the loss could draw the team closer together and add “fuel to their fire,” it could go the other way, too. Fuente saw his team deal with adversity earlier this season after a 45-10 loss to Duke that had much of the fanbase questioning the direction of the program.

The emotions of Friday’s loss were different.

“No, never, no,” Fuente said when asked if he’s ever been through something similar. “We won 15 straight games at Memphis once, that was rough, but no. I’ve not been part of that.”

It might be to Tech’s advantage that the team’s roster is filled with first- and second-year players that don’t want to be defined by the long unseen images of Virginia players drinking from the Commonwealth Cup.

Redshirt freshman defensive back Armani Chatman, who started in place of an injured Caleb Farley, has Dec. 8 circled on his calendar. That's the day Tech finds out its bowl destination and opponent.

“You can show everybody that you’re better than what you just put out and showed right there on that field,” Chatman said. “Just go out and whoever we have next, hopefully it’s a big-time opponent so we can show everybody that we’re good.”

Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker offered a rallying cry of sorts for his teammates as they start the journey towards winning back the Commonwealth Cup, a journey that in his mind starts on Sunday.

“Every loss is the same, you know,” Hooker said. “It’s the same pain. It creates desire, a new hunger, a new reason behind what you’re doing and just pushes you to get better.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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