NEW ORLEANS, La.-The No. 9 Virginia Tech Hokies took the undefeated and No. 3-ranked Auburn Tigers to the final two minutes of the game, but could not pull off the upset in the 71st Nokia Sugar Bowl. The Hokies fell to the Tigers 16-13 in front of 77,349 fans at the Superdome.
The Hokies concluded their season with a 10-3 record, while Auburn finished undefeated at 13-0.
With the Hokies trailing 16-6 late in the game and 2:13 showing on the clock, Tech took over at its 20. Quarterback Bryan Randall took the snap, got the safety to bite on a pump fake to Josh Morgan, and then hit Morgan deep for the 80-yard strike to bring Tech within three points with 2:01 remaining.
The touchdown pass gave Randall sole possession of Tech's career touchdown passes record with 48. He passed Maurice Deshazo's 47 with the final pass of his collegiate career.
Tech still had life after the touchdown, but the Hokies breathed their last breath when Auburn recovered the onsides kick and ran out the clock.
The Hokies made the final score close with a flurry at the end of the game, but they got off to a slow, error-filled start at the beginning of the game.
"Tonight, we didn't do some things that we've really been doing well," head coach Frank Beamer said. "We dropped a few balls, we had some mental errors in the kicking game, we weren't sharp in the passing game at times and that tackling wasn't consistent at times."
After the Hokies punted on their first series, Auburn took over at its 24 and quickly put the pressure on Tech. A 35-yard play-action pass from Jason Campbell to tight end Cooper Wallace on the Tigers' first play, followed immediately by Ronnie Brown rumbling 31 yards straight up the gut, put Auburn at the Tech 8. Tech's defense stiffened and Auburn settled for a 23-yard John Vaughn field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Hokies appeared to be in good position after a 48-yard kickoff return by Eddie Royal gave Tech possession at the Auburn 49. However, the Hokies moved backwards to their 38 before Bryan Randall threw an interception to Junior Rosegreen on third down. Rosegreen returned the ball 32 yards to the Tech 30.
Auburn took the turnover and drove to the Tech 1-yard line, but once again, the defense stood firm. Jimmy Williams dropped Brown for a 1-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 1 and Auburn once again settled for a Vaughn field goal, this time from 19 yards with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter to make the score 6-0.
The Hokies threatened Auburn in the second quarter, starting on their own 24 and reaching the Auburn 3-yard line in just five plays. A 30-yard strike from Randall to Josh Hyman put Tech in position to tie the game or take the lead. However, Auburn's defense got the chance to showcase its resolve and did so, stopping the Hokies on four straight plays and taking over on downs. Randall's pass to fullback Jesse Allen on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1 was deflected just enough by Rosegreen to distract Allen and the ball fell incomplete.
Auburn took over at its 1 and proceeded to march down the field. The Tigers converted a third-and-7, moving them to their 37. On the next play, Campbell hooked up with Courtney Taylor for 37 yards, Auburn's fourth play of 20 or more yards in the first half. The Tech defense once again kept the Hokies in the game, though, by forcing a 24-yard field goal. Auburn took its 9-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Auburn got the ball to start the second half and the Hokies had an opportunity to snuff out the Tiger drive early. Auburn faced a third-and-16 from its 34. Tech linebacker Vince Hall dove at Campbell's feet as he rolled out and just missed. Campbell found a wide open Anthony Mix for a 53-yard completion and the first down at the Tech 13. Three plays later, Campbell found Devin Aromashodu for the game's first touchdown. Vaughn's extra point made the score 16-0 with 10:39 remaining in the third quarter.
The score remained that way until late in the third quarter when Auburn faced a second-and-11 from its 20. Campbell rolled out and threw to the sideline, but was intercepted by Jimmy Williams at the 33. The Hokies once again had an opportunity to resurrect Tech's chances, but came up short on the 6-yard line. Brandon Pace came out for the 23-yard field goal attempt, but missed it, leaving Tech stuck with no points. The miss proved to be critical.
The Hokies finally got on the scoreboard with 6:58 remaining in the game. After a Cadillac Williams fumble gave Tech the ball at its own 22, the Hokies marched 78 yards in six plays and reached paydirt when Randall found Morgan in the left flat. Morgan picked up a block from Hyman and went 29 yards for the score. The two-point pass to Richard Johnson was ruled a trap and the Hokies trailed 16-6.
Randall's pass kept Tech's scoring streak alive, which was in jeopardy up until that point. The Hokies have not been shut out since September 16, 1995 when they lost 16-0 to Cincinnati.
Tech's defense did its job again, forcing an Auburn three-and-out on the next possession and Tech took over on its own 3. Randall quickly moved Tech to the 38 but was intercepted by Derrick Graves at the 39. It was Graves' first interception of the season. Auburn did nothing with the ball, though, and punted into the end zone, setting up Tech's last touchdown strike.
Tech loses seniors Randall, Jim Davis, Eric Green and several others whose leadership helped hold the Hokies together during their improbable run to the ACC Championship.
In all, 19 seniors played their last game as Hokies. However, the younger players feel like they are ready for the 2005 season.
"I think we learned a lot," Morgan said. "Seeing these seniors and learning from them every day, that taught us a lot, too. We just got here."