Rivalry week brings out the best in competitors. It’s often a battle of who wants it more as the win-loss column and rankings are tossed aside for those 60 minutes.
Over the last two decades, the Virginia Tech and UVA rivalry has seen the Hokies take the role of big brother, winning 19 of the last 21 meetings. Still, those games were filled with intrigue and smack talk between two programs who share a common distaste for one another.
“Looking back on those games, it really didn’t matter what the records were going in and what we thought we knew on paper,” 2008-2011 Virginia Tech wide receiver Danny Coale said. “It’s a physical game. It was always an emotional game and a fun game to play in. One that you really had to prepare for because it’s always the last regular season game, and a lot of times the Coastal was in play.”
The 2011 meeting between the Hokies and the Cavaliers was one of those matchups where the winner determined who would represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game. Virginia Tech was a top 10 team, entering the contest with just one loss to Clemson while Virginia was experiencing an upstart season with an 8-3 record and top 25 ranking.
This set the scene for the normally mild-mannered and stoic Coale to deliver a pre-game speech for the ages. The impassioned delivery brought an edge to the Hokies as they boarded the bus and headed to Charlottesville.
“I was much more of a lead by example guy than a vocal guy,” Coale said. “The focus all week was great. The preparation was great. It was my opportunity as a senior to say a few words before we got on the bus to head to Scott Stadium. I just wanted to remind the guys of the preparation, the goals we had in mind, the opportunity to play together in the environment we were headed into. I wanted to make sure everybody was focused and on the same page.
“I think it came out pretty direct and probably to the surprise of some. I think the guys got the message. It was my opportunity as a senior to say a few words, even though I’m typically not that type of guy. I felt like it was the right time.”
Coale distinctly recalls the 2011 matchup against UVA, but for a seemingly unexpected reason. It was the game that the sure-handed receiver got his start as the Hokies’ punter.
“I actually remember it most vividly because it was the first game I punted in,” said Coale, who finished the game with four punts for an average of 47.5 yards per punt. “It was one of the wildest experiences I’ve ever had because we’re standing there pre-game and [Frank] Beamer comes over to me while punting and says, ‘You’re looking pretty good. I think I’m going to start you at punter today’ much to my surprise.”
From start to finish, it was pure domination from Virginia Tech. Logan Thomas was dialed in early, concluding the first offensive drive with a 14-yard rushing touchdown and later connecting with Jarrett Boykin for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Hokies a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Virginia Tech’s defense was stingy as ever, forcing four punts, a turnover on downs, and a fumble recovery in the first half. In the final 30 minutes, it was all Virginia Tech once again.
“There were so many aspects to that game in play,” Coale said. “There’s the in-state rivalry. There’s the ACC. It’s the last scheduled game of the year, so there was a lot of opportunities to lose focus. To be able to go into that environment with everything surrounding all those noise points that I just brought up. To kind of remain focused and play good football and to know that there was going to be a game like that, highs and lows, but just to continue to dominate from start to finish is certainly one of the more satisfying things, that’s for sure.”
It was the David Wilson show the rest of the way. Wilson tallied 153 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. The Lunch Pail Defense intercepted Michael Rocco two times and recovered another fumble to preserve the 38-0 shutout.
“It was my last crack at that rivalry,” Coale said. “I know there was a lot of hype around their program and there was a lot of expectation within our building. I think the preparation was so solid all week. We had the goal of winning the Coastal and then going to the ACC Championship. Your rival stood in the way. What better way to finish the season?”
That triumph extended Virginia Tech’s winning streak to eight straight in the rivalry. It also meant that Coale and another senior class finished its entire collegiate career without losing to Virginia.
“It’s a good thing to look back and certainly think about,” Coale said. “During my time there it was certainly a goal of ours. You kind of look back on each season and the goals, and Beamer was usually very much a ‘Take care of the small things and the big things will come.’ Our goals were short-termed in nature, but our goal of beating UVA was consistent year in and year out. Beating UVA, going to an ACC Championship, and if you kind of take care of the state and the conference, you put yourself in an opportunity to do bigger things.”
The 2011 Hokies eventually lost to Clemson in the ACC Championship before being selected to the Sugar Bowl against Michigan. There was a certain play in that game that changed the outcome, and in case you’re wondering, yes, Coale knows he caught it. “No doubt about it. No doubt about it.”
Still, those final two losses shouldn’t discount the overall success and legacy of that squad. It’s an often overlooked season in the history of Virginia Tech football due to Tyrod Taylor no longer being at the helm. David Wilson had his record-breaking season, while Coale and Boykin provided one of the most productive one-two punches on the outside. Meanwhile, the defense finished seventh in the nation, allowing just 17.6 points per game.
“We had guys who had a lot of experience,” Coale said. “We had a really good senior group who kind of grew up together. A lot of us were part of that ECU loss in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte as freshmen. Just growing up together, so it was a special team.
“We had a guy like Logan who bought his time and performed really well, and he was an exceptional leader. There was seniority, there was good leadership, we understood the expectation. We understood what we signed up for and what was at stake and the goals we had in that program. I look back and think as a group with the guys I played with, the leadership we had across the board, it was really special.”
Now the 2020 Hokies prepare for the rivalry this Saturday with the Commonwealth Cup no longer in their possession. After 15 straight losses, Virginia claimed the Cup last year in the 39-30 victory.
If Coale was tasked with delivering another pre-game speech to rally the troops, what would he tell this Virginia Tech team before the matchup on Saturday night?
“If I had the opportunity to sit in there, I think the focus is on the room,” Coale said. “It’s the guys who are in that room. It’s the coaches, the training staff, the players. Nobody knows what they’ve gone through inside that room, the highs, the lows. Reminding them of the preparation and the opportunity to play one more game as a team.
“I think the rivalry is what it is. It’s an opportunity to go out and play football one more time with that group of guys and an opportunity to play together. There’s a lot of noise, and I think you do to the best of your ability to zone it out and play for each other. That’s what I would say if I were in their shoes… I’ve always viewed it as an opportunity to play with your brothers. Don’t take that last one for granted.”