Okay, so there's still one game left to play, the Sugar
Bowl against Auburn. That game could possibly provide the play of the year, so
maybe we should wait to compile our list of the Top Ten Plays of 2004. But when
it comes to reliving the great plays of the season, it's an awful lot of fun, so
we just couldn't wait. So here are
drum roll, please
the Top Ten Plays
of the 2004 Hokie football season, counting down from #10 to #1.
There are three things that define a great play: (1) the
sheer athleticism or brains of the play I say brains because some great
plays are made with the mind; (2) the importance of that play to the game it was
made in; and (3) the importance of that play to the season it was made
Some great plays, like Darryl Tapp's lying-on-his-back
interception against Florida A&M, are great plays, but they don't matter a
whit in the overall scheme of things, so that hurts their chances of making the
top ten list.
This list includes only the good plays for VT, so plays
like the bogus pass interference call on Josh Hyman and Brandon Pace's missed
field goal against NC State won't make the list. Those were huge plays in the
context of VT's season, but they weren't good plays for the Hokies, so they dont
make the list.
There is no limit to the number of plays from any given
game that can make this list, so you might see no plays from certain games, and
three or four plays from another.
Lastly, I had a lot of help from Stefan Adams and Chris
James in coming up with this list. Stefan and Chris nominated the plays, and I
reviewed their list, added a couple of my own, and then compiled this Top Ten
list. Our original list included 40 plays, and on my first cut, I trimmed it
down to 24 plays.
It was very, very difficult to trim it down further from
there. I finally wound up making up a spreadsheet, in which I gave each play a
score of 1-10 in three categories:
- Wow Factor Was it a great athletic play? Was
it perfectly executed? Did it make you jump up and down?
- Importance to the Game How important was the
play to the game in which it was made?
- Importance to the Season How important was
the play in getting the Hokies to 10-2, the ACC championship, and a Sugar
The last category importance to the season is
extremely subjective, and it is heavily based on whether or not the game itself
was important to the season. A good play made in the Miami game, for example,
will weigh much more heavily in that category than a play made in the FAMU game.
A good play made against NC State Eric Green's INT and lateral to Vinnie
Fuller won't make this list because it didn't help the Hokies accomplish
what they accomplished the season, because it came in a loss.
Once the numbers were compiled, I broke the ties, which
were numerous, based on my own opinion.
That's a strange mixture of numerical and subjective
analysis, and here's what it led to.
#10: Josh Morgan's 51-yard TD catch against Georgia Tech (20 points)
The win over Georgia Tech was a critical one, and it was
this play that broke a 20-20 tie and put the Hokies in the lead for good, not
just in this game, but in their season. This play was also one of two plays in
this game you know the other one that for the first time created a bond
between senior QB Bryan Randall and his freshman wide receivers.
Prior to the snap, Morgan, who was split wide left, was
being covered man to man by the cornerback. The corner blitzed at the snap,
requiring safety James Butler to come up and cover Morgan. Both Morgan and
Randall read the play correctly, and instead of going for the short pattern, as
they had done all game long, Morgan blew past Butler, and Randall hit Morgan in
stride for the easy touchdown.
It was simple pitch and catch, but the play was a big one
in the game and in the overall scheme of things.
- Wow Factor: 6 points (great mental play,
executed to perfection)
- Importance to the Game: 8 points (put the
Hokies ahead for good)
- Importance to the Season: 6 points (winning
play of one of the most important games)
- Total Points: 20
#9: Xavier Adibi's sack of Reggie Ball (21 points)
There's a lot of hype surrounding Xavier Adibi, whose
redshirt freshman season was derailed by a detached bicep. In the six games he
played, this was his signature play, a testament to his physical skills and the
impact he can have on a game.
With VT trailing 17-12 and Georgia Tech parked on the
Hokie 5-yard line with second and goal, Adibi sacked Reggie Ball for an 11-yard
loss that forced the Jackets to settle for a field goal. With Ball deep in the
backfield under no pressure, Adibi closed rapidly on him from 10 yards away and
took him down effortlessly with an athletic open-field tackle. The fleet Ball
never had a chance.
The Hokies were battling at that point, but a TD by the
Jackets would have put them up 24-12 (maybe 25-12, had they gone for a
two-pointer) with less than 7 minutes to go. The Hokies, who weren't yet
believers in themselves at that point in the season, might have tensed up and
gone into the tank. But Adibi's play kept them within one score, and the rest is
Adibi's play was a remarkable physical play and a key
moment in one of the key games of the season. That's why it makes the list.
- Wow Factor: 8 points (great takedown of an
- Importance to the Game: 8 points (a key play
that kept VT in the game)
- Importance to the Season: 5 points (notable
play in an important game)
- Total Points: 21
#8: Eric Green's one-handed end zone interception
of Brock Berlin on 4th down (21 points)
The argument is that Eric Green shouldn't have even caught
the ball, that he should have knocked Brock Berlin's fourth-down pass from the
35-yard line to the turf, instead of intercepting it for a touchback. Maybe.
But this we know: Green's interception of Berlin was
Berlin's first INT in 162 or 163 pass attempts, depending upon whom you listen
to. It came on Miami's second possession, with the Canes moving the ball smartly
down the field, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
With Miami facing 4th and 1 from the Hokie 35-yard line,
VT anticipated Berlin's arrogant heave to the end zone and shut it down with
double coverage on the lone receiver. Green's interception was the exclamation
point to the play and sent the message to the Canes: We know what you're going
to do, and we're going to stop it.
From that point on, Miami only picked up four more first
downs and 110 yards of offense. From the time Green picked off Berlin's pass to
the time Darryl Tapp knocked down Berlin's last feeble attempt of the game, the
Hokies shut the Canes down. And it all started with Green's interception.
- Wow Factor: 8 points.
- Importance to the Game: 8 points.
- Importance to the Season: 5 points.
- Total Points: 21
#7: Jim Davis' sack to push UNC out of field goal
range (21 points)
UNC had the Hokies on the ropes. The Heels had given up
243 rushing yards, but they had hung in there, using a blocked punt for a TD to
close the gap to 27-24, and they were driving for the game-winning or game-tying
score. UNC was on the Hokie 26-yard line, facing a third and 8 with under two
minutes to go, and it was highly likely that they were at least going to tie the
Talented kicker Connor Barth, who had booted the
game-winner against Miami the week before, was waiting on the sidelines for a
game-tying 43-yard attempt, if the Heels didn't get the first down. The worst
thing that could happen was a turnover or a sack, but with mobile senior QB
Darian Durant heading up the offense, neither of those was likely.
Enter Jim Davis. Literally, into the Heels' backfield.
Davis beat his man and rocketed into Durant from the blind side, taking him down
for an 11-yard loss that not only forced fourth down, it knocked the Heels back
to the Hokie 37-yard line. UNC called timeout with 1:16 to go, and Barth left
the ensuing 54-yard attempt wide left.
There's a name for the play Davis made. It's called a
game-winner. Had he not made that play, the outcome of the game and the entire
season may have been completely different.
- Wow Factor: 5 points (very nice play, but
not anything spectacular the timing was the most important part)
- Importance to the Game: 10 points (no doubt,
the most important play in the game)
- Importance to the Season: 6 points (a
notable play in the season)
- Total Points: 21
#6: Jimmy Williams takes on Elton Brown (22 points)
At the time, it was a critical stop of UVa QB Marques
Hagans on 3rd and goal from the Hokie 2-yard line, a nice little play that
forced UVa to kick a field goal and tie the game at 10, instead of taking a
14-10 third-quarter lead.
But upon further review, Jimmy Williams' stop of Hagans
was highlight material that pro scouts will see and drool over. With Tech
clinging to a three-point lead, the Hoos isolated pulling guard Elton Brown on
Williams, who stood him up, strung the play out, and forced Hagans to go wide,
where he was met and knocked out of bounds by James Anderson. The Cavaliers were
forced to settle for a field goal, and it was the last points they would score.
Nice play, right? Consider who was trying to block
Williams. Elton Brown is 6-6, 338 pounds, and he's a first-team All-American.
This play wasn't made against Western Michigan or FAMU. It was made against one
of the best offensive linemen in the college game. As such, it has a high
"Wow Factor" rating of 9 points, which would have been 10, had
Williams made the tackle. The play also scores high because it was an important
play in an important game.
- Wow Factor: 9 points (find me another
cornerback that can make this play against Brown)
- Importance to the Game: 7 points (one of a
handful of key plays in the game)
- Importance to the Season: 6 points (notable
play in a key win)
- Total Points: 22
#5: Josh Hyman's TD receptions against Virginia (22
The Hokies struggled offensively against UVa in the first
half, but as more and more time goes on, that will be forgotten. What will be
remembered are Josh Hyman's two touchdowns, one that put the Hokies up 10-7 and
another that staked Tech to a 17-10 lead and broke UVa's back.
With 5:48 to go in the third quarter and losing 7-3, the
Hokies started possession on UVa's side of the field for the first time all
game, and they didn't waste time taking advantage of it. Bryan Randall dropped
back from the UVa 45-yard line and threw a perfect strike to Hyman, who hauled
it in for Tech's first lead of the game.
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, with the Hokies
facing first down on UVa's 32-yard line, Randall lofted a pass to Hyman in
single coverage against Tony Franklin. Hyman demonstrated classic receiver
technique, leaping to meet the ball at its highest point (while Franklin
appeared to be gazing into the visitors' section of the stands, trying to find
Hyman's second catch put the Hokies ahead 17-10 and broke
what remained of UVa's spirit. The Cavaliers went quietly after that,
surrendering another touchdown on their way to a 24-10 loss.
- Wow Factor: 5 points (nicely executed plays
against poor defense)
- Importance to the Game: 9 points (these two
plays drove the stake through UVa)
- Importance to the Season: 8 points (the
winning scores in the game that clinched a share of the ACC championship)
- Total Points: 22
#4: The field goal block against West Virginia (22
With the Hokies holding a 6-0 lead and WVU driving late in
the first half, Jim Davis blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by the 'Eers, and
the ball shot out to the left of the Hokie side of the field, spinning on the
turf. Speedy Vinnie Fuller picked it up off the ground and raced 74 yards for
the touchdown, turning a potential 6-3 contest into a 13-0 Hokie lead with 1:14
to go in the first half.
13-0 seemed like a pretty safe lead, particularly when the
Hokies extended it to 16-0 in the second half. But as it turned out, the
10-point reversal proved to be the difference in VT's 19-13 win over #6 West
Virginia. This victory set everything right in the world of the Black Diamond
Trophy, which had been in WVU's hands for two years. It shut the 'Eer fans up,
hung a ribbon in the ACC-versus-Big East trophy case, and generally returned
everything to normal.
This was a great play in a great win, and the only thing
that keeps it from being ranked higher is the fact that the game was an out of
conference game. Had the Hokies lost this game, all else being equal, consider
this: VT would STILL be going to the Sugar Bowl as ACC champs. That keeps the
"Importance to the Season" score to a middling 5 points, because while
the win was important, it wouldn't have crushed VT's season to have it go the
Still, it was fun, and the couches are safe in Morgantown
for another year because of it.
- Wow Factor: 7 points (classic Beamerball)
- Importance to the Game: 10 points (it was
the difference in the game)
- Importance to the Season: 5 points (a nice
win, but it was out of conference)
- Total Points: 22
#3: Jimmy Williams runs down Alvin Pearman from
behind (23 points)
Early in the Tech-UVa game, the Wahoos were controlling
the line of scrimmage, and there was no better evidence of that than a perfectly
executed off-tackle run by Alvin Pearman on Virginia's third possession of the
With the Wahoos pinned back to their own 6-yard line,
Pearman rushed off-tackle left, and behind perfect blocking found a seam and
burst down the right sideline. Within 20 yards, the play was a simple foot race
between Pearman and VT rover James Griffin.
But wait, there's Jimmy Williams, right off of Griffin's
shoulder, racing after Pearman. By the time the three players had crossed the
50-yard line, it was apparent that Griffin wasn't going to catch Pearman, but
Williams was gaining ground. When the two players reached the VT 20-yard line,
Williams reached out, grabbed Pearman by the back of his collar, and dragged him
down on the 16-yard line.
It was shades of Torrian Gray chasing down Tiki Barber in
1996, in the opposite direction on the opposite sideline, with the same results.
Actually, better. In 1996, UVa settled for a field goal, but in 2004, the Hoos
fumbled a few plays later and got nothing out of Pearman's 78-yard run.
This play is ranked so highly not just because it was a
great play in an important game, but because it is seared into the minds of all
the Hokie fans who saw it. Every time this game comes up in conversation, this
play gets discussed. That's called a high "Wow Factor", and it earns
Williams a second play in the list of the top ten plays.
- Wow Factor: 9 points (speed, speed, speed)
- Importance to the Game: 8 points (one of
several plays that contributed to the victory)
- Importance to the Season: 6 points
(important play in a big game, but not a season-shifter)
- Total Points: 23
#2: Eddie Royal's 39-yard touchdown catch against
Miami (28 points)
Virginia Tech was stifling Miami's offense, and the two
teams were locked in a 10-10 battle with about ten minutes to go. By this point
in the season, the Hokies had established a reputation for late-game offensive
heroics, and sure enough, with a golden opportunity on Miami's 39-yard line,
Bryan Randall and Eddie Royal seized the moment, connecting on a 39-yarder that
staked the Hokies to a 16-10 lead and the ACC championship.
Hokie fans have howled for more crossing patterns for
years, and this play is a perfect example of why. Royal crossed about 15 yards
deep, and once Randall hit him, he was gone. There was no catching him. This
play gets a pretty high "Wow Factor" rating, for three reasons: (1)
the pass was completed against Antrel Rolle, an outstanding senior cornerback;
(2) it was perfectly thrown by Randall; and (3) Royal made a fingertip catch.
Yes, the extra point was blocked, and yes, there were
still 11 minutes and 29 seconds remaining. But admit it: when Royal crossed the
goal line, you knew the Hokies were going to win. The rest of the fourth quarter
was just a formality. This play won the game and the ACC championship, an
incredible achievement for a player who just four months earlier had never
strapped on the maroon and orange.
- Wow Factor: 8 points (nicely executed pitch
and catch against a great CB)
- Importance to the Game: 10 points (game
- Importance to the Season: 10 points
- Total Points: 28
#1: Eddie Royal's 80-yard touchdown catch against
Georgia Tech (28 points)
Coming into the Georgia Tech game, Eddie Royal was in a
mini-slump, having followed up a 6-catch, 45-yard WVU performance with 2 catches
for 15 yards against Wake Forest and a DNP (Did Not Play) against FAMU. Royal
had looked promising early in the season, especially with a diving 32-yard catch
against NC State, but like all freshmen, he was inconsistent.
Then came Georgia Tech, and if anything, Royal's season
was getting worse. He caught 2 passes for 11 ho-hum yards, then fumbled a
kickoff that GT turned into a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Later on, he dropped a
pass, and it looked like the highly-rated freshman's season might be going into
Or maybe not. Down 20-12 with 5:44 left and looking for a
spark, the Hokies got one from Royal. From the VT 20-yard line, Bryan Randall
took advantage of broken coverage to hit a wide-open Royal along the right
sideline. Royal accelerated up the sideline, and seeing a sliver of daylight in
the middle of the field, cut back Hallelujah!! Don't you hate it when
players just run out of bounds? turned on the jets, and barely eluded three
GT defensive backs, racing 80 yards for a touchdown that turned around not just
the game, but the Hokies' season.
From a numbers standpoint, this play tied with Royal's
Miami TD at 28 out of 30 points. So I had to think about which play I wanted to
name #1. And what it finally came down to was this: without the 80-yarder
against Georgia Tech, the 39-yarder against Miami might never have happened.
The long TD against the Jackets turned around not just
Royal's season, but Bryan Randall's season and the team's season, as well. From
that moment on, from the time Eddie Royal crossed the goal line in Atlanta with
5:28 left in the game, it seemed as if Bryan Randall and his Hokie teammates
could do no wrong. It all seemed preordained: the ACC championship, the trip to
the Sugar Bowl, and all those accolades for Randall and Frank Beamer.
So I chose this play over the Miami play as the top play
of the 2004 football season. What Royal's catch against GT started, his catch
against Miami finished. Not bad for a guy who is only 18 years old.
- Wow Factor: 8 points (I love the cutback and
speed best of all, and you can't tell me you weren't jumping up and down,
yelling at the TV when it happened)
- Importance to the Game: 10 points (the play
that sparked the comeback)
- Importance to the Season: 10 points (the
launching pad for the championship)
- Total Points: 28
What plays weren't on my list that you thought should
be? I know there were some great ones that didn't make the cut, like Jeff
King's diving catch against Miami, or Jim Davis smacking Brock Berlin's pass
attempt 20 yards backwards into the end zone. Hit the message board and let us
know your favorite play that didn't make this article.