ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WAVY/AP) — Eager to extend a streak that began more than two decades earlier, Virginia Tech put on a performance that took some of the sting out of an otherwise disappointing season.
The Hokies’ 33-17 victory over Cincinnati in the Military Bowl on Saturday extended to 22 the number of consecutive winning seasons Virginia Tech has enjoyed under coach Frank Beamer, who watched from a perch high above the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Beamer worked in the upstairs coaching box to avoid the risk of infection during his recovery from throat surgery. The Hokies (7-6) were making their 22nd consecutive bowl appearance under Beamer, whose last losing season at Tech was in 1992.
“He made some suggestions like, `Run it’ in the second half, and he contributed a lot,” said Beamer’s son, Shane, who serves as associate head coach. “There were a few grunts and groans as well. It was great to have someone with the experience he has up there contributing.”
J.C. Coleman ran for 157 yards and a touchdown, and the Hokies harassed and ultimately injured Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel to put the lid on an up-and-down season filled with too many injuries and defeats.
“Finishing 7-6 is so much better than 6-7,” linebacker Deon Clarke said. “We wanted to keep the winning streak intact. There was a lot of adversity we had to overcome and this was a great way to finish the season.”
Freshman Joey Slye kicked four field goals for the Hokies, who finally got a noteworthy victory to add to their upset at Ohio State on Sept. 6.
“I have had many proud moments in my time at Virginia Tech but this is one of my proudest,” Beamer said. “When you consider the constant adversity we have had to endure this season, it is just rewarding that we believed in one another and continued to fight our way through it.”
With one spectacular play in the third quarter, the Hokies knocked Kiel out of the game and virtually assured themselves another winning season.
Clarke sacked Kiel and forced a fumble at the Cincinnati 43. Nigel Williams picked up the ball and fumbled at the 12, where teammate Greg Stroman scooped it up and took it into the end zone for a 27-10 lead.
“I love it when they call a blitz,” Clarke said. “I had an open shot at him and when I hit him, I was able to knock the ball loose.”
Kiel remained down for several minutes and was helped off the field before being taken to the locker room. The 6-foot-4 sophomore did not return, and without him Cincinnati (9-4) had little chance to mount a comeback.
“That was a good, clean lick,” Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville said. “I think his head hit the ground. This turf is not made for collisions like that. He’s fine. He’s a little dizzy and not very clear. He probably could have come back and done a few things, but further injury (at) that point is really not worth it.”
Kiel finished 14 for 26 for 244 yards, but his three turnovers led to the end of Bearcats’ seven-game winning streak.
The Notre Dame transfer finished the season with 3,254 yards passing, the third-highest total in school history.
Michael Brewer went 14 for 24 for 94 yards and a touchdown to guide the Hokies to their highest point total since a 34-17 win at North Carolina on Oct. 4.
The Hokies opened the second half with a 75-yard drive for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead. Coleman opened the possession with four carries for 43 yards before Brewer tossed a TD pass to tight end Ryan Malleck on third-and-goal from the 1.
Minutes later, Kiel’s fumble enabled the many Virginia Tech fans among the crowd of 34,277 to breathe easier.
“We had two objectives out there. One was to win for our seniors, the other was to win for Coach Beamer,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said.
Virginia Tech led 13-10 at halftime despite a 307-148 deficit in yardage.
The Hokies picked off two passes and Slye kicked field goals of 45 and 49 yards, the latter coming on the final play of the half.
Kiel threw for 179 yards in the first quarter, including a 40-yarder to Shaq Washington on the game’s first play. But the drive ended with a missed field goal.
Kiel threw for 84 yards in an 89-yard drive later in the quarter that ended with a 31-yard TD pass to Rod Moore.
Virginia Tech answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Coleman. The Hokies successfully executed a trick play during the possession when Brewer caught a 30-yard pass from freshman wide receiver Isaiah Ford.
Kiel’s second interception led to a Virginia Tech field goal. Late in the half, Kiel directed an 86-yard drive that produced a field goal for a temporary tie.