78th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl ~ January 3, 2012
#13 Michigan 23 (Final: 11-2, #12)
#11 Virginia Tech 20 (Final: 11-3, #21)
Brandon Gibbon was lost in pleasant thoughts. He was thinking of pretty girls on the beach.
With the score knotted at 20, the Michigan place-kicker was 37 yards away from the first overtime victory in the Sugar Bowl’s 78-year history, though naturally opponent Virginia Tech had called time-out to “ice” him, and he was taking Coach Brady Hoke’s advice for such situations: “Enjoy the moment. Settle down. Enjoy life. Think of pretty girls on the beach.”
His fantasies couldn’t have been better than his boot, which went straight through the goal posts. In stark contrast to his kicking miseries the season before, this was Gibbons’ third field goal in three attempts – obviously a major factor in the Wolverines prevailing 23-20.
How Michigan and Virginia Tech Met in the 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl
It was a night of stories about kickers in the midst of a postseason of the kicking game failing to lift teams. Georgia lost to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl when a Bulldog place-kicker missed in triple overtime, and Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl trying in vain to spike the ball for a field-goal attempt against Oregon.
Across the Mercedes-Benz Superdome sidelines, Gibbons’ counterpart, Justin Myer, was in agony. Without him, Virginia Tech wouldn’t have been close on the scoreboard. And amazingly, he was an expected contributor. The senior, who had never kicked a field goal as a collegian, going 0-for-2 in his limited role, was pressed into emergency service for the Sugar Bowl. The Hokies’ first-string place-kicker was suspended after a run-in with the law shortly after the team’s selection to the game. Then the backup was sent home after breaking curfew once the Hokies got to New Orleans. Myer simply stepped up and connected on his first four college field goals from 37, 48, 39 and 25 yards away.
The story of this night, though, faded on his fifth attempt. In overtime, with a chance to put Tech ahead, Myer hooked his kick, giving Gibbons his chance at the game-winner.
“It’s my senior year and it’s tough to go out like that,” Myer said with wet eyes later. “I wanted to come in and help my team, but…”
* * *
For a game that stirred such an uproar when the pairing was made, Michigan-Virginia Tech was an interesting matchup.
The Hokies played with a chip on their collective shoulder, determined to show they belonged in a major bowl. Virginia Tech had almost double the Wolverines’ offensive output, 377 yards to 184, and 22 first downs to Michigan’s 12.
But the game will probably be remembered as much for Tech’s misfortune, miscues and misjudgments, all of which sealed its fate in losing a close game against an opponent it dominated. The defeat was typified by the series of overtime events that led to Myers’ miss and Gibbons’ game-winner.
On third down of the Hokies’ overtime possession, senior flanker Danny Coale appeared to make a diving catch in the end zone. Replay overturned the play, indicating Coale did not have possession when he landed.
There were other turns that did in the Hokies.
After taking a 6-0 lead on a couple of Myer field goals, the Hokies appeared on their way to adding to their lead. However, they failed to execute what could have been a touchdown play changing the game’s momentum significantly.
On fourth-and-1 from the Wolverines’ 4, Tech tried a sneak by Logan Thomas. In 24 previous such situations this season, a run by Thomas succeeded 23 times. This time he didn’t.
The Hokies’ line failed to get a push and Thomas was stopped six inches short.
That still left the Wolverines 96 yards from the opposite goal line. But they covered it with help from the Hokies. A roughing the kicker penalty kept the drive alive.
Denard Robinson, from the Hokies’ 45, lobbed a pass toward Hemingway near the 20. Tech defender Eddie Whitley went for the ball instead of the man, and missed and hit a teammate. All Hemingway had to do was catch it and scoot untouched into the end zone.
Suddenly, after Gibbons’ PAT, Virginia Tech was behind 7-6 with 49 seconds left in the half.
What’s that saying about whatever can go wrong will go wrong? That’s exactly what happened to Virginia Tech.
Hokie Tony Gregory fumbled when hit on the kickoff, and Delonte Hollowell recovered for Michigan on the 26.
Three plays later, after a dropped pass in the end zone by Roy Roundtree, the Wolverines lined up for a 30-yard field goal.
Instead, holder Drew Dileo, from Baton Rouge, threw for Hemingway near the 10. Tech’s Kyle Fuller deflected the ball, but it went into the arms of snapper Jareth Glanda for a first down at the 8 with eight seconds to play. A swing pass from Robinson to Vincent Smith was stopped at the 1 with two seconds to play, but Gibbons returned to the field, knocking home the “gimme” field goal to make the score 10-6 at the break.
Early in the third quarter, Elliot Mealer snared an interception and returned it to the Tech 36 for the Wolverines. “I was just trying to dump it over his head,” Thomas said. “He timed his jump perfectly and got his hands on it and came down with the ball. He made a great play.”
A crucial play, as it turned out.
Robinson hit Hemingway for an 18-yard touchdown to put the Wolverines in what seemed like complete control, 17-6. That second touchdown catch also lined Hemingway up for game MVP honors, despite those being his only grabs of the evening.
Despite the hard luck and the deficit, the Hokies rallied to make a game – an interesting game – of it.
Virginia Tech rallied to tie it at 17 with a touchdown, two-point conversion and another Myer field goal. But then, they made a fatal miscalculation.
On fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 48, Beamer elected to use Coale on a fake punt. He didn’t have a chance and was brought down by Jake Ryan for a 7-yard loss.
From there, the Wolverines moved to the 22 where Gibbons’ field goal made the score 20-17 with 4:08 remaining.
That was just enough time for the plucky Hokies to win it, going to the Michigan 8 – where Tech jumped. A Logan Thomas to Jarrett Boykin pass only got the ball back to the 8, forcing the field goal with two seconds to go – and the overtime.
After Myer’s miss, it was up to Gibbons to make his third try of the night. “I thought it was good when I hit it,” Gibbons said. “It felt good coming off my foot. I just wanted to celebrate with my teammates, and it felt good to celebrate with them.”
In the lowest offensive output for a winning team since Georgia’s 127 total yards against Notre Dame in the 1981 Sugar Bowl, Robinson was 9-of-21 for 117 yards and two touchdowns. While the Hokies contained the star quarterback, they just couldn’t contain Gibbons high kicks, the main difference for just the fifth Michigan team to win as many as 11 games.
Meanwhile Myers sat red-eyed in the Tech locker room, feeling he cost his team a victory despite the fact that he was the only Hokie to consistently dent the scoreboard.
Beamer said of his kicker, “He did a heckuva job.”
Recap by Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mulé, an award-winning sportswriter who covered college football and the Sugar Bowl for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 33 years.