The Run It Back series is a new feature that will be written weekly during the 2020 football season. Whoever the Hokies are playing in the upcoming week, we will run it back and take a look back at one of the previous meetings between the two squads, chatting with a member from the team who made a big impact in the game.
Virginia Tech and North Carolina State are scheduled to face off for the Hokies’ season opener this Saturday at 8 p.m. However, it won’t be the first time that the two schools met to begin the season.
In 2005, Virginia Tech started its season by traveling to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack in front of 57,500 at Carter-Finley Stadium. It was Virginia Tech’s first trip to NC State as a member of the ACC. It was also a particularly memorable game for Aaron Rouse before even taking the field. He knew it was going to be his first start at the rover position after playing whip linebacker the previous two years.
“I remember just preparing that week for NC State,” Rouse said. “I know Bud Foster and Charley Wiles and the defensive team put together a great game plan. I remember just going inside the wolf den, it’s on the road, season opener, focusing in and being ready. My guy Jimmy Williams was already touted, preseason All-American, all those accolades. I just remember not wanting to let him or Darryl Tapp or those guys down. I wanted to do my part.”
The Hokies came out sluggish, going three-and-out on the first series before allowing NC State to march down the field and score a touchdown on a 17-yard scamper from running back Darrell Blackman. Marcus Vick and Co. quickly bounced back, notching the score at 7-7 following Mike Imoh’s 5-yard rushing touchdown.
NC State’s next drive provided a moment for Rouse that he still holds onto. It was time to prove Frank Beamer and Bud Foster right for putting the trust in him at the rover spot. He did exactly that, intercepting an overthrown ball from Wolfpack quarterback Jay Davis and returning it 18 yards.
“The feeling of that first game, the first interception I got, I was looking at everyone else like, ‘I told you so. I told you I could play this position.’ I remember Bud and the guys just being so ecstatic. ‘Calm down, go out there and do it again. Go do it again.’ I just remember having so much fun,” Rouse said. “It was almost like confirmation for me to show everyone else what I already knew. Again, it was fun being on the road and playing at North Carolina State. It was a packed house. It was great because we knew going into the hostile territory all we had was each other. Getting that first pick was definitely amazing.”
Heading into halftime, NC State led 13-10 and had outgained the Hokies 249-129. In the second half, Virginia Tech scored 10 unanswered points, taking a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter after Vick connected with David Clowney for a 19-yard touchdown strike.
Bud Foster knew he had the Wolfpack right where he wanted them now. He ramped up the pressure and Tapp got to the quarterback with 12:06 left in the game, forcing a fumble in the process. It was an easy scoop and score for Rouse… or so he thought.
Our own Chris Coleman described the action this way in his post-game recap back in 2005.
“In the first instant replay decision in the history of Virginia Tech football, the call on the field was overturned. Replay officials ruled that Davis’ arm was going forward, thus it was an incomplete pass. Instant replays shown on ESPN2 showed this to be a questionable reversal of the call on the field.”
Rouse, for one, would agree with the questionable nature of that assessment.
“It was a touchdown,’ Rouse said with a laugh. “I don’t know how they called it back. I don’t know what they were looking at, but that’s home field advantage for you.
“I thought it was a fumble. Obviously scoop and score drills we practiced all the time. It was the pride and joy of special teams for Coach Beamer, learning how to scoop and score on a punt block. It just happened to be a fumble and scoop and score perfectly. Just picked it up and ran it in.”
The controversial replay and reversal only intensified the lunch pail defense. They were ready to make another big play. The Hokies seemingly did that, forcing a punt after getting a stop on the next two plays. However, NC State head coach Chuck Amato chose the perfect time for a fake punt, picking up 44 yards on the play. Virginia Tech’s defense still battened down the hatches, holding NC State to a field goal to make the score 20-16 with 8:09 remaining.
“After that we realized, ‘OK, you can take that one back, but we’re going to make the next one count. We’re going to come in harder on the next play.’ I just remember having a great time,” Rouse said. “I remember playing extremely fast. I remember our defense, we were special that year flying around. Justin Hamilton, James Anderson, we just had a bunch of guys on there that loved to play the game. It was fun.”
The Hokies then went on a 15-play drive, sucking up seven and a half minutes of game action. The drive ended with a punt out of the back of the endzone, but it gave NC State just 39 seconds to go 80 yards down the field for the win.
Foster had one message for his defense.
“It’s his message all the time, which is finish the game, finish strong, don’t let them off the hook,” Rouse said. “We played a great game, a solid game thus far, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t finish the game and you come away with an L. I think that’s what it all was about was finishing the game. Signaling to everyone that this is a defense you’re going to have to see all year, and we’re coming.”
After two incompletions to start, Davis connected with Tramain Hall for a 32-yard pitch and catch. On the next play, the Wolfpack tried a desperation hook-and-ladder play that netted them 17 more yards and put them on the 31-yard line with time for one more play.
It was also time for Rouse to make his impact felt one more time. He leapt high and came down with the interception on Davis’ heave to seal the victory for Virginia Tech.
“For them to end up in the fourth quarter, they’re driving, we’re trying to get off the field and make a stop,” Rouse said. “I saw the ball and I didn’t even realize how high I had jumped. I went up and sealed the game for us. It was an amazing feeling.”
It was just the beginning of a memorable 2005 season for the Hokies. Virginia Tech finished 11-2, including a win over Louisville in the Gator Bowl and a No. 7 ranking in the final AP poll.
The Hokies’ calling card all year long was the defense. Bud Foster’s unit allowed just 247.6 yards per game (first in the nation) and 12.9 points (second in the nation).
“I think that team that year was special,” Rouse said. “We didn’t care what number or what rank you were in the nation, who was on your offensive team, who was at quarterback, if you had an all-conference running back. None of that mattered to us. All that mattered was the guy standing right next to you and that we were going to go out there and play balls to the wall. We were going to make you succumb to our style of play. There was nothing you could do about it.
“Defense was going to be a staple for Virginia Tech. We wanted that to be known. We were physical, we were fast, we had a chip on our shoulder. That defense was special. You never wanted to be the last one to the tackle. We always liked to gang-tackle. Whoever was the first player to get to the ball it was, ‘Yeah, I got here first. Y’all slow.’ We were always competing against each other even though we were competing against the other team. It was ‘I want to get in on every single play and every single tackle that I can.’ We were hungry. I miss that team. I loved that team.”
Now, with the Hokies ready to begin their 2020 campaign against NC State, Rouse wants to send a message to all those involved. A message that needs to be heard, especially with all the outside noise surrounding the 2020 college football season.
“The 2005 team, we were getting outscored and we had to show some resiliency,” Rouse said. “What I’m looking for this weekend is guys who show some resiliency. Yes, we have a pandemic around. Yes, campus is not what you’re used to seeing, even practice is not the same, but that’s not an excuse. You have a job to go out there and do.
“It comes down to details. The little things add up to big things. If you can take care of the little things, it will take care of the big things. Focus, play together, and I want the players to know they come from a rich foundation of solid football players.”