Jester Weah beat Brandon Facyson's coverage and seamlessly darted through Mook Reynolds. He turned upfield and scampered down the sideline toward the end zone. Mouth agape, words started pouring out of my brain. The column was writing itself.
"Pitt happened again."
"What a terrible way for these seniors to go out."
"We are witnessing an end-of-season collapse no one saw coming."
While I was in the midst of writing my master's thesis a number of years ago, I would walk the streets of Philadelphia writing and re-writing paragraphs out loud. Hearing myself say the words was the easiest way for me to proofread my own thoughts. I would pass the same people on my walks to and from classes and the gym, and I would venture to guess that a number of them thought I was weird. In all honesty, it was weird.
So there I was sitting on the couch while the replay officials scrutinized the spot of the football when Weah's knee hit the turf, and I was writing this column outloud. It was a column that you'll never read, because the Tech defense staged an unbelievable quartet of stops on the succeeding four snaps.
Finishing. Read any of the post game comments and you will see that word pop up time and again. It was the way Andrew Motuapuaka, Greg Stroman and their fellow seniors finished their careers in Lane Stadium. It was the way Reggie Floyd refused to give up on Weah and ultimately finished the play by bringing him down short of the goal line. It was the way that the entire defense banded together to finish each of the final four goal line plays.
When we think back to Saturday's unbelievable finish, we will remember those last four stops. Those plays will live on in our minds (and the interweb) thanks to BilldozerVT's video. But let's not forget what Reggie Floyd did to make that last stanza possible. Bud Foster singled out Floyd's refusal to quit during his postgame comments.
"I'll tell you this, the play of the game was Reggie Floyd not giving up on that play," said Foster. "We talk to our kids every day about finishing and today was a big part of it. Every blade of glass is critical, and you talk about a big-time effort. I'll have to look at the film, but I know that big Timmy Settle and Ricky Walker and Tremaine Edmunds and Andrew Motuapuaka, I know those guys were going to be playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage, but the play of the game was that play and giving us a chance to go finish it."
Think back to that play for a moment. What was going through your mind as Weah ran towards paydirt? Was it some variation of, "Oh no"? Were you internally debating whether or not the Tech offense had it in them to get into field goal range in less than a minute? Were you already thinking ahead to UVa and the realistic end to Tech's era of dominance? Were you wondering if Maurice Ffrench's parents misspelled their last name on his birth certificate?
(Since we're sharing: I muttered an R-rated version of "Oh no" (remember, mouth agape); I'm still not convinced the offense could have given Brian Johnson a realistic shot at a game winning field goal; I was and continue to be terrified of the Hokies' Black Friday date with the Hoos; and I'm convinced this is the only explanation.)
A week after watching Georgia Tech beat the Hokies on an 80-yard game winning touchdown pass, Pitt looked to be on their way to making it two in a row. What Floyd did says a lot; a lot about both this team's character and the impact the coaching staff has had on these players. The Hokies were in the midst of a late season slide and on the verge of an all-out collapse. I'm not suggesting that those thoughts immediately enter into the minds of players in moments like that, but watch the tape and you're struck by Floyd's heart.
When asked whether he had been coached to make that type of play or if he thought he had a chance to catch Weah, Floyd laughed and said, "Both. I just couldn't picture our team losing like that in the last seconds. So, it was just instincts to just chase him down before he got into the end zone."
Effort like that is inspiring. It gave Floyd and his teammates a shot to hold on for the win, even if most in attendance assumed that a Pitt go-ahead touchdown was a fait accompli.
Over the last few weeks, we've collectively worried a little about the state of the Hokies. The offense has struggled to consistently move the football against the meat of the ACC schedule. The defense continues to be hampered by chunk plays that negate long periods of dominance. And after a blissful season and a half, the coaching staff has drawn the ire of some fans.
Rational fans have continued to recognize that this team was far from a finished product. Tech's relied on youth at a number of key positions. But those same rational fans had every right to fret when a superior Virginia Tech team was on the verge of dropping another game in frustrating fashion.
What I've found interesting about this year's team is that they have been successful despite being relatively devoid of star players. There are a lot of good players that have been around for a long time and a ton of emerging talent, but outside of Tremaine Edmunds, Greg Stroman and Cam Phillips the Hokies have succeeded in 2017 more as a collective than on the backs of a few individuals. So it only made sense that the defense banded together during that final minute to play their roles and hold the line. Outside of the third down fade that Greg Stroman knocked away, the Hokies swarmed to the football each and every play. They won as a group.
"The goal line stand was special and memorable and something we'll talk about for a long time," remarked Justin Fuente. "I'm not sure everybody understands the emotion that those players are going through when they're on top of the mountain, it's fourth down, the crowd's into it and all of a sudden a guy's running the length of the field. You've got to find a way to get him on the ground which we did, and you've got to regroup yourself to go play defense again. For our guys to have the mental toughness to respond in an adverse situation is something I'm really proud of."
After a fourth down play that felt like the end of something, the final four plays felt like the beginning of something.
Heading into a rivalry game against an opponent that suddenly looks truly formidable for the first time in many of these players' careers, the atmosphere surrounding this team has changed dramatically. The way that the Hokies held on to win will have a lasting impact that can carry over to the next game. It wasn't a fluky Hail Mary that gave them the W, but rather four consecutive stops with little-to-no margin for error. It was the definition of a "team win."