Every coach and player in college football will tell you that moral victories don’t exist. However, in certain situations, they seem obvious and apparent. Virginia Tech’s loss to Clemson is one of those situations.
The No. 22 Hokies took everything Clemson had to throw at them on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game and had a chance to win on their final drive.
“The guys never gave up, even though we were down,” said Nigel Williams. “After the first quarter, we all rallied — offense and defense. All the young guys helped pick up the older guys and vice versa. We just kept pushing and chugging along and we fought to the last second.”
Virginia Tech trailed 35-14 in the third quarter and 42-28 midway through the fourth, but responded each time.
“There’s not many moral victories. A loss is a loss,” said Sam Rogers. “We felt like we had a chance to win the game and we didn’t, but like you said earlier, the way our team responded is just really encouraging. I’ve never doubted that about our team.”
Despite the loss, the Hokies aren’t sulking.
“We push each other, we believed, we prepared to get there,” Williams said. “It was a tough game, a tough loss but I’m really proud of the way the guys worked throughout the year and the way they played on Saturday.”
“We were very relentless in our effort,” Phillips said. “We played hard and tried to win an ACC Championship. We gave them our best shot. That obviously is a very good football team. We just came up a little short.”
Now, Virginia Tech gets to prepare for their 24th-straight bowl game. The Hokies will play Arkansas (7-5, 3-5 in SEC) in the Belk Bowl, which will be held on Dec. 29 in Charlotte, NC. at Bank of America Stadium, the original location of this year’s ACC Championship Game. The game was of course moved to Orlando, FL.
The placement could give Virginia Tech an upper hand in attendance, which would be a welcome sight for the players.
“I’m looking forward to having a huge turnout from Hokie Nation,” Rogers said. “It’s not too far away and I know a lot of fans will travel there and support us in our last game of the season. I can’t wait to see all of the orange and maroon in the stands.”
“I always look forward to a new opponent, someone that you don’t get to play very often,” Phillips said. “Arkansas, being an SEC team, I’m sure that they’re going to have a lot of talented guys and I’m really looking forward to that.”
The Belk Bowl presents an opportunity to send off Virginia Tech’s seniors with a win, but it also gives the Hokies a chance for their first 10-win season since the 2011 season, when the Hokies finished 11-3. Since then, Virginia Tech has struggled for bowl eligibility and recorded seasons of 7-6, 8-5, 7-6 and 7-6.
“I think just going from single digits to double digits is just a big thing, especially around here,” Phillips said. “A lot of people weren’t expecting us to be here in this position — winning the Coastal, playing for an ACC Championship. Ten wins will kind of be the big thing to how successful our season was.”
For the seniors, getting to 10 wins would allow them to say they were the leaders of a return to the national spotlight, something Virginia Tech hasn’t enjoyed consistently since Tyrod Taylor played quarterback.
“It would mean everything,” said Chuck Clark. “During my time here, I haven’t had a 10-win season. It would mean everything to leave with a win and to send the other seniors out with a 10-win season.”
“I think when you look at it, the difference between nine games and 10 games is a big difference,” Williams said. “Another big thing is going out this season the right way. Getting these seniors out of here with a good win under their belt. Arkansas is a pretty good team, they’ve had a good season as well and they’ve played some tough opponents. It would be a good win down in Charlotte for the Belk Bowl.”