Joshua Atkinson

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Hokies send Frank Beamer into retirement a winner

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Frank Beamer began his postseason Virginia Tech tenure with a win in Shreveport, La.  More than two decades later, as a Hall of Fame career comes to a close, the beloved Hokie head coach has literally come full circle.

In a wild affair that will serve as one of the most entertaining in what right now is a week-old bowl season, Tech used a record-setting first half to pave the way for a record-setting 55-52 win over Tulsa in the 40th Independence Bowl.  This was the 23rd straight season, all under Beamer, that Tech has played in a bowl, the second-longest streak in the country behind Florida State’s 34.  The first of those 23 bowl appearances?  Against Indiana… in the 18th Independence Bowl.

Beamer, who announced his retirement earlier this year in his 29th season as his alma mater’s head coach, finishes his stellar career with 280 wins, fourth all-time behind a trio of FBS coaching legends — Penn State’s Joe Paterno (409), Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (377) and Alabama’s Bear Bryant (323).  With the twin retirements of Beamer and Steve Spurrier (228), there is no active head coach with 200 or more wins; Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, with 193, is the closest to hitting that plateau.

In those 23 straight bowl games mentioned earlier, Beamer’s Hokies went 11-12.  This year marked the second consecutive bowl win for Tech, just the second time Beamer’s gone back-to-back with victories in the postseason (2008 Orange Bowl, 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl).  And, unlike most of his other wins in both the regular and postseasons, this one wasn’t predicated on defense and special teams — even as the famed Beamerball made a brief first-half appearance in two quarters of play that were the absolute antithesis of the vast majority of Beamer’s time in Blacksburg.

In those first two quarters, the Hokies and Golden Hurricane combined for more than 700 yards of offense and 76 points as Tech took a 45-31 lead into the halftime locker room.  Those 45 points for Tech tied the Independence Bowl record for a half… first set by Tech in Beamer’s 1993 appearance in the game.  It was also a historic one-half performance regardless of the bowl venue:

In the second half, things calmed down, relatively speaking and ever so briefly, as the Hokies held a 52-31 lead with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter.  However, three Dane Evans touchdowns — two passing, one rushing — offset by just a single VT field goal pulled the Golden Hurricane to within three with 3:47 remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Golden Hurricane, following a Hokies punt with two minutes remaining, had one more opportunity for at least a game-tying field goal, and got to the their own 46-yard line with 1:27 remaining before Beamer’s lunch-pail defense…

… produced sacks on second and fourth down to officially seal that 280th and final win for their head coach.

The two teams ended up combining for 1,161 yards of offense — 598 for Tech, 563 for Tulsa.  Evans passed for a game-high 374 yards, while Tech’s Michael Brewer passed for 344; that marked Brewer’s second career 300-yard game, with the first (345 yards) coming last November against Boston College.

227 of Brewer’s yards were caught by Isaiah Ford, setting an Independence Bowl record for receiving yards in a game.  A pair of Golden Hurricane receivers went for 100-plus — Joshua Atkinson (139) and Keyarris Garrett (137).

Tech finishes the 2015 season at 7-6, the second straight year the Hokies have finished with that record.  The 14 wins are the fewest in back-to-back seasons since Tech won 11 games in 1992 (2-8-1) and 1993 (9-3) in Beamer’s second and third seasons with the football program.

Tulsa, meanwhile, ended 2015 at 6-7, marking their third straight year with a sub-.500 record.  This is the first time since a stretch from 1992-2002 that the Golden Hurricane had finished below .500 in three or more consecutive seasons.