The Virginia Tech-Virginia rivalry seemed dead at the end of last season. The Hokies had just finished whooping the ‘Hoos 52-10 inside Lane Stadium, on their way to a Coastal Division title. Virginia dropped to 2-10, and failed to make a bowl game for the fifth-straight season.
However, things feel different this year. Virginia Tech has struggled in recent weeks, dealing with a sluggish offense and a banged-up defense. Virginia hasn’t exactly been lighting things up either in November, but the Cavaliers are 6-5 on the season, and are guaranteed to go bowling this December.
Given the matchup, and that this game will take place at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville this Friday, at 8 p.m., it’s reasonable to see why the ‘Hoos could end their 13-game losing streak vs. the Hokies.
“They definitely look good,” said Andrew Motuapuaka. “And you see, when you watch film and stuff like that, they play every single team real close. I think it’s a different Virginia team.”
Virginia has made great strides under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who’s in his second season at the helm in Charlottesville. Mendenhall led his team to a blistering 5-1 start this season, including a road win vs. 23rd-ranked Boise State. The Cavaliers haven’t been as good since that start, but are still a team that can cause you some problems. Just ask No. 2 Miami, who trailed Virginia 28-14 early in the second half last week.
Even if Virginia wasn’t an improved squad from last season, head coach Justin Fuente wouldn’t worry about his team’s motivation.
“I have a feeling this is the type of game that both sides get up for, regardless of what’s happened,” Fuente said. “I don’t think you need any extra motivation for this one. I think everybody understands what it means. It’s kind of all hands on deck. Whatever you’ve got has got to go play at a high level.”
For a guy like Motuapuaka, he certainly doesn’t need any extra motivation. The senior linebacker hails from Salem High School in Virginia Beach, Va., an area Virginia often recruits. However, the ‘Hoos and former coach Mike London didn’t even establish a relationship with Motuapuaka, then a 3-star recruit.
“When I actually started falling in love with the sport, and just everything that it came with, I started taking pride in actually being good and stuff like that,” Motuapuaka said. “Schools started noticing me, and Virginia Tech offered me, and that’s how I got here. Virginia never offered me. They never really talked to me, looked at me or anything like that. So I kind of use that. I play with a chip on my shoulder as far as that, and I’m looking forward to playing them.”
Tech has dozens of players from the state of Virginia on their roster, including some who grew up Tech fans. Players like Deshawn McClease understand that this rivalry means a lot within the state, even if both rosters now include plenty of players from outside the Commonwealth.
McClease, who committed to Virginia Tech relatively early in the process, said that even if Virginia did reach out, he wasn’t interested.
“To be honest, I ended up getting a lot of offers my senior year that I didn’t even know about,” McClease said. “I was already committed of course, and of course I wasn’t going to decommit to go to Virginia. So, it wouldn’t have mattered if they offered me or not. I was never really interested in Virginia.”
Ricky Walker, another product of the 757 area, grew up a Virginia fan. His older brother, Rijo Walker, played for the Cavaliers from 2010-2013. Ricky grew up rooting for the Cavaliers, but made the switch during his recruitment.
Walker said that he and his brother haven’t talked about Friday night’s game yet, but that the whole family will be in town for the showdown.
“It’s just something about UVa. week, man,” Walker said. “The weather is always colder, just a little more bounce in practice, everybody is more energetic. Just want to keep that Cup in Blacksburg. Being from the 757, guys go to UVa. and guys come to Tech, but it’s a reason why guys come here. Because it’s 13 years in a row the Cup’s stayed in Blacksburg. It’s going to be fun. I know a couple guys on that team, Friday night, prime time, it gets no better than this.”
This game means a lot to everyone in Blacksburg. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who’s coached against UVa. since 1987, understands this like no one else inside the Virginia Tech program.
“This game means so much as far as recruiting, in-state bragging and I know particularly with the fans in particular, this game for the last several years meant a lot to us because it’s catapulted us, particularly for a championship game or a championship, period,” Foster said. “So, it’s obviously played a bigger role these last 13-14 years than it maybe did the previous time, when we were just rivals. Now, we’re rivals with a determining factor. I think that makes a big difference.”
Last season, Fuente brought in former head coach Frank Beamer to speak to the Hokies before the game, in hopes to motivate them even more. Beamer is out of town this week, and will be unable to speak with the players, but Fuente isn’t ruling out bringing in someone else.
“I’ll call anybody in if it means it’s going to help,” Fuente said. “I think we have a pretty good understanding of it. Our focus needs to be on our preparation and the challenge ahead of us. Like I said, it’s going to be a far different game than it was a year ago. We’re playing a much-improved football team that’s going to be excited and hungry to play.”
Even if Fuente doesn’t bring in a motivational speaker, Virginia Tech will have all the motivation in the world. No senior on the Hokies’ roster wants to be the group that allowed the win streak over the ‘Hoos to end.
“But this game is all about pride,” Motuapuaka said. “Just pride of Virginia Tech, pride of just that streak and just holding down. We’re playing for more than just ourselves and the streak. We’re playing for the past players that have come through, who started this streak and stuff like that. It’s a lot on the line. We’re up for the challenge, and we’re going to get some good work this week.”