The Top Ten Plays of the 2004 Season
by Will Stewart,, 12/23/04

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 in.

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 don’t 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 Bowl berth?

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 history.

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 elusive player)
  • 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. Maybe not.

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 score.

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 points)

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 his parents).

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 points)

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 other way.

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 game.

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 winner)
  • Importance to the Season: 10 points (championship winner)
  • 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 the tank.

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.

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