Bryan Randall dropped back, unleashing a deep spiral down the left sideline. A redshirt freshman named Josh Hyman caught the pass in stride, behind Virginia's secondary for the prettiest of touchdowns. Lane Stadium shook with a throaty roar, and the team no one wanted in the Atlantic Coast Conference soon had an intoxicating win over its intrastate rival and a share of the league title.
Bryan Randall smiled an almost devilish smile after Virginia Tech wore down Virginia yesterday in the cold and the sun, the kind of facial expression you earn a year after being maligned and shuttled in and out of the huddle with Michael Vick's talented but troubled younger brother, Marcus.
Fitting, no? The senior who led the Hokies to at least a share of the ACC championship this afternoon, throwing for two scintillating touchdowns and amassing 230 yards of total offense by himself, was often the quarterback everyone wanted replaced at Virginia Tech University. At different junctures of his career, Randall fought off every inaccurate perception of his abilities — and every young kid with a strong arm and quick feet aiming for his job — to emerge through a Senior Day tunnel prior to kickoff.
"Didn't someone say you had a weak arm when you got here?" Randall was asked, shortly after he had led the Hokies to 24 second-half points in a pulsating game up until about the final five minutes.
"That was the rap on me," he said, shrugging and rifling off the others. "I heard 'He's too small. He doesn't have the poise to play quarterback. He runs too much. We'll move him to strong safety.' Everything."
It's easy to get lost in the particulars of yesterday. With the win, Virginia Tech set the table for at least a $14 million bowl appearance — in either the Fiesta or the Sugar — provided it can get past Miami next week. A loss to the Cavaliers, and the alternative might have been the Tangerine Bowl, and a paltry $850,000. But because the ACC shares bowl revenue and the invitations are more about prestige than actual dollars, Virginia-Virginia Tech was ultimately about Senior Day.
Alvin Pearman, Virginia's bull of a tailback, put his helmet down and ran for 147 yards. Seventy-eight yards came on one carry over right tackle in the first quarter that silenced Lane Stadium. Doubling as the kick returner, Pearman was on his way to leading the Cavaliers to victory. He was very good. But there was a better senior on the field.
He came out before the game, into the arms of his father, Edgar, and his mother, Belinda, who Edgar said was "teary-eyed."
"I was teary-eyed, too," Bryan said.
The Randalls saw Bryan run the gamut the past two seasons. He was intercepted three times and fumbled in a deflating 28-7 loss to West Virginia for the Hokies' first loss last season. Soon after, Coach Frank Beamer fell in love with the athleticism of Marcus Vick, the younger brother of the Atlanta Falcons' Pro Bowler. Randall, once the unquestioned leader, suddenly had a slew of detractors.
The quarterback shuffle began, and Virginia Tech never regained its dominance. The controversy was sure to carry over into the summer when Vick made some of his own controversy off the field. He was arrested twice, pleading guilty to misdemeanors for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and reckless driving. Vick was suspended for the fall semester. He plans to return to school and the team, but his immediate departure left Randall as the survivor.
Yesterday, the team he led won its ninth game and its seventh in a row. Bryan Randall became the career passing leader at Virginia Tech, surpassing Don Strock. In four years, he has thrown for 6,061 yards — many more than Michael Vick, who left after two years.
"It's funny, when we came here we thought Michael would play one more year," Edgar Randall said. "But Bryan went right into the fire. They used to say he had a bad arm and all this other stuff. He went through a lot. But who's to say today would feel this good if he didn't go through that, you know?"
If Randall's legacy was at stake this afternoon, so was history.
Virginia and Virginia Tech last played a conference game in 1935, the last of 13 straight games when they were members of the Southern Conference. The two known surviving players from that 0-0 tie watched from their couches yesterday: 87-year-old Howard Mast, a sophomore tailback for Virginia Tech 69 years ago, and John Leys, 90, Virginia's left end and team captain that season.
Mr. Leys was foolishly asked whether he played on offense or defense yesterday. "Both ways, son," he said by telephone from his home in Charlottesville. "Sixty minutes." Both men served in World War II. In fact, nine years after that game, Mr. Leys led 300 troops onto Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion. Storming Normandy apparently dwarfed the memory of 1935.
"Nothin'. Nothin'. I can't think of anything else," Leys said.
"I think we played in Charlottesville, but I don't remember," Mast said from his home in Suffolk, Va. "No, no, no. Maybe it was at home." Mr. Mast confessed that he did not get in the game. "But I played in '37. I ended up on the Virginia bench, and we had a fight and went on to win. I stayed under the bench for the whole thing."
Randall was told of his surviving Hokies brethren after the game. "Tell him hi for me. Did they win that game?" he asked.
"Scoreless tie? That's rough."
After a two-touchdown, Senior Day victory in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the quarterback who used every bit of four years to mature, develop and persevere could hardly relate.