New Orleans, LA — Virginia Tech proved that they belonged
on the field with #3 Auburn, and VT spoiled the Tigers' chance at a split national championship, but those are small consolations. The Hokies got
behind 16-0, then mounted a rally in the fourth quarter but fell short, losing 16-13 in the 2005 Nokia Sugar Bowl. The story of the game was missed
opportunities for the Hokies, as they dropped a touchdown pass on 4th and goal from the 1 and missed a 23-yard field goal.
Auburn used three short field goals and a short TD pass to build a 16-0 lead after three quarters, and the Hokies finally came awake in the fourth
quarter, striking for two scores on TD passes of 29 and 80 yards from Bryan Randall to Josh Morgan. The second score came with just two minutes left,
though, and time ran out on the Hokies, who dropped a three-point game full of could-have-beens.
The Hokies outgained Auburn 375-299, and the Hokie defense was solid, limiting Auburn's vaunted rushing attack to 110 yards on 43 carries. As he
has done all season, Auburn QB Jason Campbell picked up the slack, hitting 11-of-16 passes for 189 yards and a TD, including two critical third
and 16 conversions that hurt the Hokies.
The Tech defense also gave up just one touchdown on four Auburn trips inside the Hokie 10-yard line. It was the offense and special teams that
struggled for the Hokies, for most of the game. Bryan Randall threw two interceptions, more than he had thrown in the Hokies' 8-game winning streak,
but he came on strong with two fourth-quarter TDs to Josh Morgan and finished 21-of-38 for 299 yards and 2 TDs.
The Hokies never got their running game on track, rushing just 22 times for 76 yards, including just 13 carries for 31 yards from their tailbacks.
But what really hurt VT was a dropped touchdown pass in the second quarter by walk-on fullback Jesse Allen on a 4th and goal from the Auburn 1 with
Tech trailing 6-0, and a short missed field goal by Brandon Pace early in the fourth quarter with the Hokies down 16-0.
Auburn penetrated inside the Hokie 10-yard line three times in the first half but came away with just three field goals to show for it, as kicker
Jason Vaughn hit first-quarter kicks from 23 and 19 yards, and a second-quarter kick from 24 yards. With the Tigers holding a 6-0 lead early in the
second quarter, Mike Imoh returned a punt 24 yards to the Auburn 38, setting the Hokies up in nice field position. Josh Hyman caught a 31-yard pass
from Randall to set the Hokies up with 1st and goal from the Auburn 2-yard line. The Tigers held and forced 4th and goal from the 1, and Randall's
pass to fullback Jesse Allen slipped through the walk-ons hands.
The Tigers took possession, drove down the field and scored a field goal to take a 9-0 lead into the half, and Auburn wasted no time in extending
the lead to 16-0 on their first possession of the second half. On 3rd and 16 from their own 34-yard line, Campbell avoided a hard blitzing Vince Hall
and threw a 53-yard completion to Anthony Mix to the Hokie 13. The Tigers scored their only touchdown three plays later, getting a 5-yard TD from
Campbell to Devin Aromashodu on 3rd and 2.
That made it 16-0 Tigers with 10:39 to go in the third quarter, and Auburn would not score again. The two teams traded punts, and then Tech's Jimmy
Williams picked off Campbell at the Auburn 30-yard line, setting the Hokies up with good position with 2:38 to go in the third.
The Hokies converted a 4th and 1 on the Tiger 11-yard line, then got down to the 6 and decided to kick a field goal on fourth down. The ball was on
the left hash mark on the 23-yard field goal attempt, and Brandon Pace pulled it, missing wide left and squandering another great opportunity.
Auburn marched downfield but made their second turnover of the game when Carnell "Cadillac" Williams fumbled on the Hokie 38-yard line
and Mikal Baaqee recovered, with 8:38 to go. This time, the Hokies made it count, with Randall hitting Josh Morgan with a short pass that Morgan
turned upfield for a 29-yard TD. Randall fired a 2-point conversion attempt into the turf in front of Richard Johnson, and the Hokies trailed 16-6
with 6:58 to go.
Randall threw his second interception of the game on VT's next possession when he was forced out of the pocket and made a bad throw on the run,
leading to a tipped pass and a pickoff on the Hokie 39-yard line with 3:32 to go. VT spent the remainder of their timeouts on Auburn's ensuing
possession, forcing a punt that went into the end zone. The Hokies took over on their 20 with 2:13 to go and injected some life in the proceedings
with an 80-yard strike from Randall to Morgan. Randall dropped back to pass on first down and pump-faked, and Auburn safety Will Herring bit on it.
Morgan ran by Herring, and Randall hit Morgan in stride for a TD that made it 16-13 with 2:01 remaining.
The Hokies couldn't recover the onsides kick, and with no timeouts, could only watch as the Tigers kneeled down three straight times to run out the
clock. The win finished Auburn's season at a perfect 13-0, and it snapped the Hokies' 8-game winning streak. VT finishes their ACC championship season
at 10-3, wondering what might have been, had they just made a few more plays.