Virginia Tech Falls To Kentucky 37-30

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Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
Bud Foster’s defense couldn’t hold up late against Kentucky. (Ivan Morozov)

Lynn Bowden Jr. hadn’t completed a traditional dropback pass the entire game against Virginia Tech. That was until Bowden found Josh Ali for a 9-yard completion to move the chains on a pivotal fourth-and-7 with 3:37 remaining.

Nine plays later against a gassed Virginia Tech defense, and after another fourth down conversion, Bowden connected with Ali again in the end zone with 15 seconds left. Matt Ruffalo’s extra point gave Kentucky the 31-30 advantage.

“We had some opportunities to make some stops to finish the game and didn’t and that was kind of the disappointing thing,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “We had that fourth-and-six in that range, that’s the one completion he did have. I don’t know how many he had.

“All day as we were preparing for these guys, we were going to play so far inside on their No. 1 receiver and not get beat inside because he couldn’t throw an out cut. We get beat on two inside plays there.”

A last-second fumble return touchdown by the Wildcats’ Jordan Wright on a failed lateral play sealed the Belk Bowl, giving Kentucky (8-5, 3-5 SEC) a 37-30 triumph over Virginia Tech (8-5, 5-3 ACC). It all added up to another Hokies’ heartbreaker in a decade full of them.

“The fact that we didn’t come through in this game doesn’t diminish my pride in them, my excitement for the direction of our program, my belief in what we’re going to be,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “We were awfully close on both sides of the ball today, but ultimately, one play here or there on either side of the ball and they ended up winning it.” 

Bowden finished the game as the Belk Bowl MVP with 34 carries for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He was also 6-of-12 passing for 73 yards with the game-winning touchdown and an interception. 

“It’s what he’s done to everybody,” Fuente said. “He’s a great player. He’s competitive, he’s tough, strong, never looks like he’s in a hurry out there.” 

“He just has really quick feet,” linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “He can put his foot in the ground and make any move he wants. He showed you today that he’s a really special player.”

The game-winning drive spanned 8:10 of game action, accounting for 85 yards on 18 plays. The passing touchdown was just Bowden’s third of the season.

“(It means) everything,” Bowden said of the game-winning touchdown being a pass. “Y’all [the media] said I couldn’t throw.”

Tech came into the game without both starting cornerbacks, Caleb Farley and Jermaine Waller. Against a Kentucky team that was No. 4 in the nation running the ball and hasn’t been effective throwing it, it didn’t seem like a big deal. 

That was proven wrong when replacement Armani Chatman was beat for the final touchdown and committed a pass interference penalty earlier in the game that wiped out a Chamarri Conner interception, eventually leading to a Wildcats’ touchdown.

“Armani played well, but had a couple critical errors when it’s all said and done with the PI and giving up a couple plays at the end,” Foster said. “I’m excited about those two kids. Armani is going to be a really good player. Brion [Murray] continued to improve. It would have been nice to have those guys back [Farley and Waller] because they were All-League guys.”

The Hokies were the first team to score 30 points on Kentucky’s defense this year. Virginia Tech rushed for 219 yards on 33 rushes (6.6 avg.) Deshawn McClease led the way offensively with 11 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown.

The redshirt junior has now rushed for over 100 yards in three straight bowl games.

“They’re fun. Bowl games are fun,” McClease said. “We have a lot more time to prepare for the opponent. It’s just a lot more chilled and a lot more laid-back.”

After a forced fumble recovered by Jaylen Griffin gave the Hokies the ball at Kentucky’s 39-yard line to end the third quarter, Hendon Hooker and Co. drove inside the 10. However, Fuente decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the 9-yard line to increase Virginia Tech’s lead to 30-24 with 12:47 left in the game. He explained his decision to not go for it in the situation, even after converting a fourth-and-8 earlier in the game. 

“There’s just so much time left, you know,” Fuente said. “I didn’t know what the time of possession was after that. I feel like they had the ball most of the time. So yeah, I thought about (going for) it. Felt like there was so much time left in the game that we kicked it.”

Virginia Tech won the turnover battle 2-1, which included the fumble and a Brion Murray interception, but only scored three points off of those turnovers. The Hokies also got the ball back with 9:48 in the fourth, but a quick three-and-out gave the ball back to Kentucky for the game-winning drive. 

As of right now, Virginia Tech will return 21 of 22 starters next year, with safety Reggie Floyd being the lone departure as a graduate. That includes quarterback Hendon Hooker, who deserves a large portion of credit for the turnaround, going 6-2 as the starting quarterback. 

“Very encouraged,” said Hooker, who finished the game 12-of-22 passing for 110 yards and two touchdown passes to Damon Hazelton and Dalton Keene. “Have a lot of guys coming back. Everyone is hungry to get better. We’re motivated from these losses we just had. I’m eager to see what the future holds.”

The one mainstay for the Hokies who won’t be returning in 2020 is Foster, the man who spent the last 33 years coaching in Blacksburg. Foster’s final game didn’t end the way he would have liked, but he left with one final message declaring his love for the years he’s spent at Virginia Tech.

“The best person I ever met in my life outside of my family was Frank Beamer,” Foster said. “Frank taught me a lot of things, not just football. How to treat people, how to care about people, how to be approachable, how to be transparent. I think that’s what happened is everybody knew we were all in this thing together. That’s how I feel. That’s what kept me here for a long time. 

“We were winning at the highest level and we had a fanbase that was energetic and enthusiastic and cared as much as anybody in the country and that has not wavered. I can’t thank them enough for all their love and generosity and support. I know sometimes they’d like to throw me under the bus, but for the most part we’ve put a product out there on the field that made them proud and was really special.”

Virginia Tech
Has Deshawn McClease played his last game for Virginia Tech? (Jon Fleming)

Notes

There was certainly no love lost between the two teams. In a scuffle before the game, Bowden threw a punch at defensive tackle DaShawn Crawford, but since the incident occurred outside of an hour before the start of the game, no penalty could be incurred.

“The referees’ jurisdiction starts an hour before the game,” Fuente explained.

Bowden apologized for his actions postgame. 

“It’s a lot of emotion,” Bowden said. “I could have hurt my team and not been out there tonight with them, so I just apologized to my program, my teammates. I did it before the game, I apologized to them guys. We respect Virginia Tech.”

On Kentucky’s fourth-and-1 conversion with 1:01 remaining, Alan Tisdale came out of the pile with the ball, but it was ruled that Bowden’s forward progress had been stopped. Fuente offered his explanation of the play.

“They review all that stuff,” Fuente said. “The whole taking a challenge flag timeout deal in college football, they’re reviewing it. The guy tells me that they reviewed it and it’s been confirmed, don’t waste your timeout.”

Rayshard Ashby and Tisdale led the team with 14 total tackles each. Ashby finished the season with a team-leading 120 tackles, and he’ll return as the senior leader for next year’s team.

“A long ways to go,” Ashby said. “A lot of things to work on. We’ve just got to be better during the offseason.”

Deshawn McClease may or may not have played his last game in a Virginia Tech uniform. The redshirt junior has now graduated with two degrees and he has one year of eligibility remaining, but he could decide to end his career after five seasons with the Hokies.

“I’ve thought about it,” McClease said. “I still have some discussing to do with my family and the coaching staff. I’ll take as much time as I need to evaluate things.”

Box Score

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33 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I have been reading all of these comments and I think it is all ridiculous! First, everyone wants to blame the offensive coordinator for the loss. Hello, people! We have been averaging over 30 points a game since the Duke game. This is the first time Kentucky has given up 30 points to anybody this year and they have played plenty of good teams. I just don’t understand all of the hatred for BC or for JF for that matter. Kentucky drove 85 yards on the last drive. Do you think us possibly going for it instead of us kicking the last field goal would have made a difference? Sure everyone always wants to second guess the offensive play calling. Does anyone ever think to question the defensive play calling? I graduated from Tech in 92 and if we were to score 30 points in any game, with our defense, I expected us to win that game. I think it is easy to point fingers after the fact but the bottom line is that if we stop Kentucky at any point on their final drive, we would not be having these same discussions.

    Maybe we should all embrace the current coaches and coaching situation instead of being so negative. It is never ease to follow a legend in coaching, just ask UVA. They have been looking for a long time. Let be positive! With the amount of experience coming back, next year should be great! Already looking forward to it! Go HOKIES!

    1. If VT scores 30, we should win. I think the offense has made great strides and played quite well for most of the game.

      However, I can’t help but notice that we are conservative in play calling in the red-zone with a lead. Wouldn’t you agree? I’d like to see us go for the jugular and get 7 instead of settling for 3 more often. I’m not even suggesting going for it on fourth down with a 3-point lead. Kicking the field goal ensures you don’t see OT on a counter FG if the fourth down play is stopped. I’m suggesting we go for the TD on 1st-3rd down more agressively.

  2. Coach doesn’t protest call because Ref says play was called correctly as Kentucky is rushing to get next play snapped, i.e. that ball didn’t become loose prior to runner being down. Coach next time trust your own eyes, I hope that film reviews prove you were right because if it doesn’t then you need to apologize to the team for your mistake and costing them a win. By the the way the Kentucky coach would have been on the field wasting his time out. Of course that time out didn’t help us, but the TO you called later that let Kentucky regroup and execute a perfect pass play after Kentucky was able to confer with on the sideline to call the next play.

    1. I agree with your thoughts on that time out.. This was a Mike London/Pat Narduzzi type of move that always often ended in defeat. I think Coach will vehemently assert that at that moment everything was frantic and we needed to assure our kids were in their proper defensive alignments but this final play sequence was the same as a sudden change event……We should have never called a time out to let them regroup. We extended them courtesy to gather themselves, identify our highest weak points, and call the perfect pass play.

  3. Farley plays and we win the last 2 games, no question….. were the better team in both of those games.

  4. We need to score TD’s in the red zone not field goals especially when you are inside the 20. Play calling on our last 2 red zone drives were pathetic. We hardly threw to our TE’s and where was Robinson all game! CFU hopefully gets more involved in the offense during game time decisions, OC needs help because I really don’t see on a constant basis him making positive play calling decisions in major key time!

    1. +1!
      Horrible play calling in the red zone! We were at the game and I said to my wife when we kicked those field goals..”Watch, that will come back to haunt us. We needed to score Touch Downs there, not kick Field Goals.” Gotta finish them off when you have the chance. Instead we run the ball up the gut twice and then then throw horrible passes for incompletions. And then kick the FGs. How frustrating!

  5. To much to say but we just do not have the horses anymore.. almost no playmakers on D outside of Conner. No real threats even though McClease had a good game. No true difference makers in terms of athleticism.. yes we have Tre Turner and couple others who are good but no legit ones like TT, Wilson, Fuller, etc. who are legit 5 star difference makers.

    Look how bad Dax is relative to what we thought he could be.. he is destined to be a good teammate but avg college player at best in arguably the worst P5 conf. He does not possess the athleticism to help our D much.

    Need better players, amongst bunch of other things.

  6. I can’t envision one of our players sucker punching an opposing player before the game starts, but I hope like heck if one of ours guys did that he would be on the 24 hour bus ride back to Blacksburg. Kentucky should have had the guts to bench him as a minimum. That says a lot about their program. They can keep that “special athlete”.

    1. Yep…their coach is an ass hat. Unfortunately, character does not factor in for far too many coaches and players.

  7. I know it’s better to be positive and optimistic for next year but friends…….I just dont know.

    Our team and our coaches really let one player beat them again the entire game (Insert Bowden, Bryce Perkins, Ian Book, or Quentin Harris here). Its been like this the entire last couple of years for us.

    Is it really the youth of our team or

    Is it Defensive tendencies, schemes & playcalling
    Is it the lack of elite execution by the offense unit.
    Is it the lack of creative playcalling by the OC.
    Is it lack of elite execution by our FS & Corners.
    Is it lack of Linebacker and Defensive End play.
    Is it lack of any ability to neutralize moble QB play
    Is it lack of the ability to recruit multiple highly regarded 4 & 5 star in state and out of state talent to Va Tech?

    Dont get me wrong. I am proud of the fight and perseverance this team’ shows. Last year the fight was to restore the trust between players and coaches after ODU loss- Fuente had lost the locker room and almost the UVA game. But we recovered.

    This year we had high expectations and after 7 months to prepare for Boston College, we lose the opening game and showed no physicality and looked weak, soft and unprepared at the point of attack. We work our way back with our destiny
    still firmly in our hands until the great Friday Dukbacle and we blow an egg against Duke- due to total lack of preparation. The short week should not have gotten the best of us. Then the year got better until the ND loss that didnt have to happen. Finally, the streak could have lived on but I wonder just slightly if it became too much of an albatross that a Coach from Oklahoma did not care much for one way or the other unlike a Virginia native would.

    After all we witnessed this team go through this year before and after Duke, culminated with the loss of the CommonWealth Cup streak which WAS one our greatest accomplishments, I see the hills to greatness to be a far taller challenge than just Sophomores matriculating to Junior status. I hope not but Will there be more excuses next year? What will they be?

    I am cheering and pulling for our team to win and take that next step…..but very apprehensive I will be. Here’s to believing in the promise of tomorrow and hoping everyone else is right.

    1. This is very well written. Bottom line- when the games were close, this VT team could not close and seal the win, with the exception of the UNC game. I am becoming a doubting “Thomas”. Show me to make me a believer. Next year is make/break year for CJF. As my son said late yesterday when he called to wish me a Happy New Year, it is tough to follow a legend. That is what CJF is trying to do with regard to Frank Beamer. I hate to say it, but maybe with the new coaches and a new DC, it will finally be his team and program. I’m buying season tickets for 2020 and will be at all home games plus UNC. I’ve been going to Kenan Stadium since I was a teenager growing up in SW VA. Always fun to beat UNC and Duke in “anything”, as they kept VT out of the ACC for > 50 years.

      1. It is hard to follow a legend but even the legend
        couldn’t follow the
        legend. We went from consistent 10 win seasons to slightly above .500 for 4 years with our 2 coaching legends still in place. So CJF did not inherit a 10-win program.
        I also wonder if CJF can get us consistent 10-win seasons but it’s not as if he’s brought the program down. It was already down from the peak.

    2. We were not weak vs BC – it was all turnovers –> u are thinking of 2 yrs ago…
      Coaches made the call/pull on RW a bit late…injuries to Farley and Waller got us beat…

      My biggest issue – we hire an Offensive “guru” and we kicked FG’s inside the 15 at a bowl game – show some balls “c”FU!

  8. This team has the athletes needed to compete at the highest level. There were breakdowns in the game that gave the UK team points too easily no doubt. The trick will be coaching the dudes up so they dont repeat them. This Spring will be key for CJF and his staff to get this team to the next level like CFB and crew did for the team between ‘92 and ‘93. Going from giving up those last second scores in those 3 key losses to making the stop like they did against Miami are a small thing but also everything.

    1. This team does NOT have the athletes need to compete at the highest level, not on defense and not at the running back position. Stop it! CJF is not getting it done. Whit needs to give him an ultimatum prior to next season: ACC title game or leave.

    2. As Lazarus said, this team does NOT have the athletes to compete at the highest level. If recruiting does not tick up, we’ll remain a fairly nondistinct Tier 2 program. Under Beamer (other than during the handful of years at the end of his tenure), we were at the top of Tier 2 and generally knocking at the door (and occasionally breaking into) Tier 1. The difference in recruiting between the Tier 1 football programs (from memory, most of us would name that same 10ish teams that fall in that category) and VT is pretty significant. What I struggle with as I continue to watch the program: what should VT’s aspirations really be? It’s fine to say we want to win a national championship, and that would be great. As I believe (hopefully not naively) that VT runs a clean program, what is the realistic ceiling for our program? We caught lightning in a bottle in 1999 with the combination of Michael Vick and some really good juniors and seniors (who were tough, smart, and played with a big chip on their shoulders), which made for a special season. And we’ve had a few years since then where we were legitimately part of the “top teams in the nation” conversation. But we’ve not been able beat the best teams on the biggest stages … ever. Is it realistic to think that that is a reasonable aspiration?

  9. Bowden can apologize for all he likes. He should’ve been getting booked for assault and battery.

    1. While we didn’t win it. That video is pretty clear. That was a fumble. However, when they rule forward progress stopped, is the play even reviewable?

  10. Our OC play calling on our last possession was pathetic!!!!!!!!!!Perhaps we should have taken Charley
    & left him @ home.He just did not call a game to let the O win—just put it on the D to save the W.

    1. We love to blame the o for all of our losses this year, but let’s review the last 2 games, we scored 30 in both and lost. The game yesterday if you had told all Hokies that we would run for ice 200 yards and score 30 points, I think most of us would be thrilled. It is time to start a new era on the d side, it really has not worked very well the last 5 years. We also need to get over Beamer and bow foster and look to the future. We need to support our staff and see what happens now with the old guard now going.

    2. How bout Hazelton catch the ball. That play call was fine and would have been a big play and 1st down. The OC cant polish crap execution.

  11. Officiating was not that great. PI call on Chatman after the receiver had slipped; UK went on to score a TD.

    On last FG, should have gone for it on forth to go up a full 2 scores.

    Once again, like ND game can’t get a stop on the final drive.

    Frustrating like all of the season. Best thing; there is always next year.

    1. And if we don’t get the TD, they go down and tie it up on a FG and send it to overtime. Then we say, “we should have kicked the FG”. If we had gotten a field goal on the next position we go up 9 which is two scores. We had a drive to put it away and didn’t. They did.

  12. Notre Dame, UVA, Kentucky … just a few minutes from the big V. Proud of this very young team. We have a bright future. Still looking for a Michael Vick or Tyrod Taylor.

    1. HokieJB said it very well!
      ND, UVa and Kentucky……all three wanted it more! Tech could have, should have won at least two of those games. We need to recruit better, coach better and learn how to kick a*s again.

  13. All would have been good except for 19 seconds worth of football at the end. A more mature team next year will indeed make VT a better year. Many of the teams we played this year had 20-25 seniors on their teams, and we are getting there. Looking forward to a better 2020.

  14. I am hoping that losses like the BC, ND, UVA, and Kentucky game can be improved upon in 2020 to give us a chance for a special season. We did make that play against Miami. I expect a more mature Defense will lock it down next year.

  15. I think taking the field goal was the right thing to do. It forced them to get a TD to win and had we made another FG on the next drive we go up by 9 and essentially put the game away.

    A repeat of the ND game emotionally for fans. I believe ND converted two 4th downs on that drive too. Defense got us to 4th down which is an accomplishment but couldn’t hold it once in last drives.

    1. To nkhooch’s comment …
      Tech was closing in to the KY goal line, only needing a few yards for a 1st down and already leading by 3 pts., early in the 4th qtr.

      If they go for and get the 1st down, they go up by10 pts instead of 6 pts.
      BIG Difference – KY would need two scores

      If Tech fails on the TD they still have KY mired down deep in their own territory having to go most of the field for a go-ahead TD or maybe a tying FG. Tech still would have had plenty of time to mount another drive or two.

      So, KY marches down the field, behind by 6, scores a TD & XP, eats up the clock and goes ahead with 15 seconds. Don’t even want to discuss the 3 bonehead play calls by Tech to end the game.

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