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.
Despite Louisville becoming a member of the ACC back in 2014, Saturday’s contest will mark the first time Virginia Tech and the Cardinals match up as conference foes. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any history between the two sides.
They last met on January 2, 2006 in the Gator Bowl in a memorable battle between the two sides. The Hokies entered the game following a 27-22 loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game, where they nearly pulled off a miraculous fourth quarter comeback. Meanwhile, Louisville was 9-2, having rattled off five straight victories.
“For us, it was trying to get things back on the right track. We had a disappointing loss to Florida State,” said Virginia Tech linebacker (2001-2005) James Anderson in a phone interview this week. “Whenever you don’t win a championship, it’s always frustrating, but that year there was a bunch of guys and this was kind of our last hurrah. It was our last chance to play together. We wanted to go out with a bang.”
Early on, it was the Cardinals who struck first. Quarterback Hunter Cantwell threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter as Louisville went ahead 14-3. To make matters worse, All-American senior cornerback Jimmy Williams was ejected after making contact with an official.
“I think in those scenarios it comes a point where you have to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Look, we have to wake up. We’re a better team than this. We’ve proven we’re a better team than this.’ Everything that happened to that point we basically did to ourselves,” Anderson said. “Louisville had a great team, they had some great players, and they were good that year, but it wasn’t anything they were doing to us. Most of the things that happened we had done to ourselves. We just had to right the ship.”
Then, late in the second quarter, there was the infamous stomp from Marcus Vick on the Cardinals’ stud defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s ankle.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal to me until after the game, until we actually saw what happened and how it happened,” Anderson said of the stomp. “That’s when it kind of got blown up. In the moment of the game, some of those things happen and you’re just so focused in the game that it doesn’t even register until after the fact.”
What seemingly could go wrong for the Hokies was going wrong. Still, they trailed just 17-10 at the half. After a third quarter that only saw a 28-yard field goal by Brandon Pace, Louisville took a two-score lead in the fourth quarter when Cantwell tossed his third touchdown of the day to Gary Barnidge to go up 24-13.
Virginia Tech needed just two plays to respond. Vick connected with David Clowney for a 54-yard reception. Cedric Humes followed with a 24-yard touchdown on the ground. The two-point conversion cut Louisville’s lead to 24-21.
Now, it was time for the defense to make a play.
“Usually the fourth quarter of the game is like a statement,” Anderson said. “It’s here and now, do or die. It’s ‘we have to finish strong.’ That year was a Lunch Pail Defense. Coach Foster had something ready to go. You have some guys who had things to prove. Jimmy had gotten ejected. We had a bunch of stuff that was going against us, so we just had to put up or shut up. That was the moment we started stepping up.”
Cantwell drove the Cardinals into Virginia Tech territory. Facing a third-and-3 from the 40 with under 10 minutes to play, Chris Ellis burst through the line untouched and walloped Cantwell for the sack. The ball popped in the air and Anderson recovered the fumble.
“I think the special thing about that team is it didn’t take much,” Anderson said. “It just took one play. It took one person on that defense to make a play and it kind of sparked.”
Five plays later, Vick found tight end Jeff King in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Hokies their first lead of the afternoon, 28-24.
The Lunch Pail Defense took the field with a newfound confidence, knowing they had Louisville on its heels. They had worn Cantwell down with big hit after big hit. He was even seen being treated for a bloody nose on the sideline in the first half after a pressure from Noland Burchette.
“At that point I definitely remember because we were letting [Cantwell] know how we felt about it too,” Anderson said. “We’re on the field kind of going at him a little bit and saw that we were taking effect. The funny thing about it is he actually played with me at Carolina [Panthers] for a little bit afterwards. I reminded him of how we treated him on the field that day.”
Those hits kept coming, too. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Cantwell scrambled up the middle of the field. Justin Hamilton met him in traffic and absolutely blasted the redshirt freshman quarterback with a forearm shiver, sending his nose plug flying.
“You’re in the moment, so once you have a big hit, the whole defense is hype,” Anderson said. “Every time that happens we elevate to a different level. Take it up a notch, take it up a notch, take it up a notch. It’s almost like you have an angry mob. The first person that throws the brick, now everybody is ready to go and ready to charge. That first time you get that big hit, you get with the defense and turn everybody up. That’s where we were. We were riding high. We knew we had momentum. We knew we were in a fight and were doing what we do.”
The hit rattled Cantwell, and the Cardinals even took a timeout for him to catch his breath. On the very next play, Cantwell made Anderson’s day. Anderson dropped back in coverage and the quarterback never saw him. The Chesapeake native intercepted the pass with one hand, broke a tackle, and returned it 39 yards to ice the game, giving the Hokies a 35-24 lead with 5:04 remaining.
“Coach Foster called a play where my responsibility was to bust to the flat and check the flat,” Anderson said. “They snap the ball, I go to do my responsibility, I turn around and all of a sudden, ‘That’s the ball. Did he just throw me the ball?’ I pick it and the rest was history. Once I caught the ball, there was no way you were stopping me from getting in the end zone. This was our last time. We were trying to make plays that make memories. That was one of those things for me.”
The win capped off a stellar career for a group of seniors on the 2005 squad. Virginia Tech finished 11-2 and No. 7 in the Final AP Poll. On the defense alone, Anderson along with Jimmy Williams, Darryl Tapp, Jonathan Lewis, and Justin Hamilton all went on to be drafted in April.
“Before the game and leading up, you understand this is our last chance,” Anderson said. “A lot of the guys had potential NFL opportunities. Every time you do something, you leave a trademark, you leave a memory, you make an impact, and you do something people recognize. We had an opportunity to do that.
“To get to a senior year and have moments that I was able to enjoy on the field. It was a reflective moment for me just to enjoy the process and to enjoy the moment. That year we had some ups and downs, some good games, and some crazy stuff going on, but through it all we were able to do some good things.”
A Look at the 2020 Virginia Tech Hokies
Anderson admits he doesn’t get to watch the team as much as he would like with a 2-year-old running around the house. However, it’s pleasing for him to see two former teammates from the same class in Hamilton and Tapp now on the coaching staff and leading the defense.
“They’ve played some good games,” Anderson said. “They had a few games where it always happens – some miscues, some lapses. That’s different parts of the game. It seems like Justin has the guys on defense running around, and it’s a different environment there. I’m looking forward to how the team is going to grow. It’s really fun to see some guys I played with come back on the coaching staff and to see how they’re doing.”
Virginia Tech is coming off a disappointing loss to Wake Forest where turnovers and penalties were largely the issue against the underdog Demon Deacons. Now, the Hokies will have to regroup and flip and page versus Louisville on Saturday.
“Those things always happen,” Anderson said. “I think it’s funny, it’s always the games you’re not supposed to lose that somehow end up sneaking in there and biting you in the butt. You’ve got to understand and look at the game and say, ‘How do we take that experience and learn from it to be better? Not just because we lost. OK, you’re upset about it and rightfully so, but how do you not let it happen again. What things did you learn that will prevent that from happening in the future?’”