BLACKSBURG — They ran to one side of the stadium and then to the other, jumping, shouting, waving towels, dancing to Metallica.
Virginia Tech’s players would try to make sense of it all later, or maybe they wouldn’t. First, they had some well-earned celebrating to do.
It continued in the locker room, where the stereo blared and water bottles got tossed around like streamers. Chaos during the game, chaos after it. Makes sense.
Let’s face it: This team is flawed. After Saturday’s epic 43-41, six-overtime victory over North Carolina on Saturday, the Hokies are also pretty injured. They’ll probably lose a few more games this season. Their next game, against Notre Dame in two weeks, is a prime candidate to be a loss.
But whatever happens from here on out, they’ve proven their devotion to each other and to this program. Anyone who thinks otherwise need only turn on the video of this performance.
“It just feels good, just knowing that all my brothers, we all have heart,” Tech wide receiver Tre Turner said. “That’s something you can’t coach. We all dug in. We all wanted to win, and you see what the outcome was.”
We did. We saw third-string quarterback Quincy Patterson plunge into the end zone on the final two-point conversion attempt, and we saw the sideline erupt.
We heard it, too — the sweet release of a sellout crowd that had given its all for more than four hours of tense, fun, sloppy, crazy, wonderful action.
“That was definitely one for the ages,” Turner said. “Probably the longest game I’ve ever played in my life — basketball, football — I’ve never been a part of something like that. I’m just saying the whole time, ‘Look at Lane. Look at Lane Stadium.’ It feels good to have fans stay for a full game.”
How could they possibly leave? Their team had lost its starting quarterback to injury and was using its No. 3 guy.
A tight end was lining up regularly in the backfield, as the scaled-down, Patterson-led offense was trying to bulldoze its way down the field like some defunct NFL team, like the Cleveland Tigers or the Columbus Panhandles.
Their secondary was losing some of its top players — Caleb Farley, Chamarri Conner — to injury. Their kicker missed a field goal that could have won it. Their coaching staff had its questionable moments — no Hail Mary attempt from midfield at the end of regulation? — but the Hokies kept going back for more.
In other words, every excuse was sitting out there, just waiting to be embraced. The Hokies embraced none of them.
“I think it’s a microcosm of the whole group,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “I’m proud of how they responded. There were times when we weren’t moving the ball very much offensively, and there were times when we weren’t exactly stoning them defensively, but we kept battling through, making adjustments, making tweaks, continuing to give great effort and try to battle through the adversity.”
Fuente said he would have felt the same way about his guys had they lost. Normally that might seem ridiculous — you’re just here to go 1-0, right? – but Saturday was different. On Saturday, he was exactly right.
Had UNC made its field goal to win it or had a Tech player fumbled in overtime or if the Tar Heels had converted its first two-point conversion to stun this place, it would not have been any less of an impressive effort from the Hokies.
“Coach said we were going to have to fight it out,” defensive lineman Norell Pollard said. “Me as a person, I’ve been in tough situations all my life. I love games like that. It brings out who wants it more, who is actually going to go get it. I felt like that’s what we had.”
They did. All of them. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who’s been roaming the Lane Stadium sidelines for more than three decades, summed it up well: “I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of a group than I am of this group tonight.”
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But ask him again in 10 years, when the memories have started to commingle and individual performances have become tougher to recall.
Here’s guessing he’ll give you the exact same answer he just gave, one similar to the one Turner did. This, indeed, was one for the ages.