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 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.
The 2004 college football season was underway and Virginia Tech football found itself with a 1-1 record following a loss in the opener to No. 1 USC and a 63-0 dismantling of Western Michigan. The Hokies were now ready to enter conference play with a matchup at home against Duke.
However, this game held even deeper significance for head coach Frank Beamer and Co. It was the first ACC football contest in program history. Two and a half months earlier, Virginia Tech and Miami hopped from the Big East to the ACC as the league’s 10th and 11th members. It created a whole new dynamic for the upcoming conference slate.
“I just remember it being a lot of excitement built up around it,” 2004 quarterback Bryan Randall said. “We were going to be facing teams we had never played before. It was the inaugural ACC game for us, a team we had never played before. We were still trying to find our identity as a team. We knew there was a lot riding on it to make sure we came out and got out to a good start.”
The Hokies didn’t exactly get off to that good start. A penalty on the kickoff set the Hokies back at their own 6-yard line to start the drive. 10 plays later, Randall misfired on a pass to Justin Hamilton and was intercepted by the Blue Devils’ Justin Kitchen.
On the ensuing drive, Duke converted on a fake punt attempt and capped off the drive with a 28-yard touchdown run by Deon Adams to jump ahead 7-0.
“I remember clearly throwing my first interception,” Randall said. “It was one of those things where we knew we had a better team, and for one thing, when we thought about Duke, we’re thinking, ‘This is a basketball school.’
“In our minds, we’ve got to come out and start fast. If we play our game, they shouldn’t be able to keep up with us. I remember throwing that first pick and thinking to myself, ‘You’re going to come out here and start slow and give them confidence.’ … It was definitely a frustrating start and very slow.”
In the second quarter, Randall and Co. began to shift gears, outscoring Duke 24-0 in those 15 minutes to head into the locker room with a 24-7 advantage. The first half was highlighted by Randall’s 30-yard touchdown run where he broke multiple tackles and weaved across the field for the score. Randall finished the game as the leading rusher with 93 yards on 12 attempts.
“Anytime you’re in a situation as a dual-threat quarterback, when you feel like you need to get yourself into the game, if there’s opportunities for you to run the ball and get things going just to move the chains, then that’s what you’re going to do,” Randall said. “I just remember on that play feeling like I was invincible. One of those runs like that. After all these years, there’s still certain plays that stick out in my mind, and when you say Duke game, that’s probably the one that sticks out in my mind.”
Virginia Tech cruised in the second half to a 41-17 victory to capture its first ACC win in program history. The excitement of being in a new conference never waned for Randall throughout the season. The senior loved welcoming new opponents to Lane Stadium and felt like the unfamiliarity with others helped the Hokeis gain an edge.
“Over time, when you play a team so many times, it’s almost like certain teams get your number to where no matter how many times you play them or how better you may be as a team, they’re still going to find a way to stick around,” Randall said. “I felt like we had a chance by playing teams we hadn’t played before to be able to jump out and show teams that we hadn’t seen, but they also hadn’t seen us. I always felt like that was to our advantage to be playing teams that had never played against us, especially for our defense. Our defense was off the chain.”
After splitting time for part of his junior season, Randall was given the opportunity to flourish in his senior season and did not disappoint. The signal caller passed for 2,264 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also carried the rock for 511 yards and three touchdowns en route to being named ACC Player of the Year.
“It was like a storybook season,” Randall said. “Even starting from game one with the USC game, we felt like we were in a position to win that game. After that game we knew we had something. We knew we had to jell fast, and after that loss to NC State, it was like, ‘OK, one game at a time.’ I talked to Coach [Kevin] Rogers, and he said we can run the table. I think we really believed that. We had nothing to lose.
“There’s nothing better than a great team that jells together, will fight for each other, and believe in each other. That’s what we had. We really had a great team that year. We had better teams as far as on paper standpoint, a player standpoint. That by far wasn’t our best team that we put on the field. As a core, as a nucleus, how well we meshed together and jelled together, that was definitely the best team.”
The 2020 Virginia Tech squad enters the picture as a team that wants to mesh together in the same way the 2004 team did. Head coach Justin Fuente has his team heading that route, especially in the time since 2019 embarrassing loss at the hands of Duke. Since then, Virginia Tech is 7-3 and will get the chance to amend the past wrongs against the Blue Devils again on Saturday afternoon.
“After watching them last week, I feel like they were hitting on all cylinders,” Randall said. “I think Coach Fuente has got them confident. I think after that last game, they’re feeling like, ‘OK, we have something special here.’
“To me, it’s one of those teams when I look at them, we’re not looking at a team that has 10 first rounders that stand out right now… Sometimes that’s the best situation because you have a lot of guys now who are hungry. Guys that aren’t feeling like they’ve reached the climax or ‘I know I’m getting drafted this year, so I’m just trying to stay healthy.’ That’s a different type of situation. I think this is a situation right now where everybody is hungry to play. I think you have a lot of guys out there who are trying to build an identity, coaches included.”