CHARLOTTESVILLE — Frank Beamer was the picture of joy after his Virginia Tech Hokies’ 23-20 win against Virginia at Scott Stadium on Saturday, with hugs for anyone within arm’s reach, the Commonwealth Cup in his clutches and a locker room dance to end all locker room dances.
His hat cocked to the side without a care in the world, the soon-to-retire 69-year-old gave his version of The Dab — or at least a reasonable facsimile — as Virginia Tech’s players hooted and hollered in the background, celebrating the Hokies’ 16th win in 17 tries against their state rivals.
“Oh, he danced,” said Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer, who gutted through multiple injuries to throw two second-half touchdown passes to key the win. “It was one of his best performances. He was extremely happy, as he should be. We’re all extremely proud of him, and we feel fortunate to get to be a part of his team.”
On a bizarre day in which reports began trickling out during the game that Memphis’ Justin Fuente had been hired to replace the retiring Beamer, the longtime coach didn’t appear to have a worry in the world during his post-game press conference.
Loose and carefree, he called his wife Cheryl up by his side and got nostalgic about his career. But ultimately, he appeared just to be relieved to extend the streaks that have come to define his tenure at Virginia Tech, with the added bonus that he’ll get to coach this team and these players for another month.
“How many guys do you know that have been fortunate enough to stay in one place for 29 years?” Beamer said. “I’ve been at a place I love, at a place where all my family was able to get their degrees. I’ve been lucky and so fortunate.”
The win means Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4 ACC) will go to a bowl for a 23rd straight season, the second longest active streak in the country — or longest, depending on if you want to count Florida State’s 34-year streak that includes vacated games. The Hokies, who will find out their postseason destination in a week, are the ninth ACC team to become postseason-eligible.
But it also extended the Hokies’ winning streak against state rival Virginia (4-8, 3-5 ACC) to 12 games, adding to what’s already the most lopsided stretch in the series’ history.
“We’ve beaten them so many times in a row and they still don’t respect us,” defensive tackle Corey Marshall said after things got chippy at times on the field. “We’ve repeatedly shown time and time again that that’s not the way you address it. That’s not the way you handle it, to constantly get into those verbal battles, so we just wanted to prove it on the field.”
The Hokies finally did after a back-and-forth second half, putting the finishing touches on the win when Joey Slye booted a 42-yard field goal with 1:38 to play, and safety Chuck Clark intercepted an overthrown Matt Johns pass in the final minute.
“It was a great team win,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “We kicked the ball well. We played great team defense. … We stepped up and played big when we needed to.”
That the score even got to 23-20 was something of a surprise. Both teams slogged through a first half that featured only field goals and a 6-6 score at the break. But they came alive in the second half.
UVa running back Albert Reid’s 57-yard third-quarter touchdown run was matched by a 2-yard touchdown catch by Tech fullback Sam Rogers early in the fourth after tight end Ryan Malleck had a 71-yard reception.
The Cavaliers went ahead with 10:04 to play on Canaan Severin’s 27-yard touchdown catch, only to be matched again when the Hokies’ Isaiah Ford had a 32-yard reception for a touchdown that tied things at 20 less than two minutes later.
The Hokies put it away with one final gutsy drive. Under siege in the first half by a Virginia defense that had three sacks and nearly knocked Brewer out of the game with a shot to the midsection from Mark Hall, the Hokies somehow managed to shore up their protection up front.
A 21-yard pass to Ford, who had 121 receiving yards, kick-started the final drive, which featured six runs by Travon McMillian for 28 yards, including 8 on one play in which the offensive line pushed him down the field in a pile after he got stood up at the line of scrimmage.
In field goal range, Virginia Tech contemplated a trick play on third down but opted for a safe run up the middle, “because we feel that Joey Slye is the best kicker in America,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. Slye rewarded that faith by drilling the field goal down the middle for a 23-20 lead.
A minute later, Clark had intercepted Johns down the field, setting off a celebration fitting of a 29-year coaching career coming to a close. Beamer saved an especially emotional hug for his son, Shane, the Hokies’ running backs coach. All the feelings of the last couple of weeks came out.
“I’ve gotten more than I deserve the past couple weeks,” Beamer said. “I promise you.”