Rickey Bustle had one of the best — and worst — seats in the house for the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
Upstairs in the coaches' box at the Louisiana Superdome, Virginia Tech's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach had a bird's-eye view of his team's disappointing first half and subsequent third-quarter comeback.
With one quarter to play for the national championship, the Hokies led top-ranked Florida State 29-28.
"I remember telling Billy Hite on the headset," Bustle said, referring to Tech's running-backs coach, "if we haven't run out of gas, we're getting ready to beat these guys."
Bustle's concern came to fruition. The Hokies were done in by the Seminoles' depth and playmakers in a 46-29 loss.
Ten years after Virginia Tech's lone shot at a national title, Hokie principals recall a peculiarly dramatic game that still causes indigestion.
"It was right there on our plate for us and we didn't capitalize," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "We got back in it, but we didn't finish it, and that was kind of disappointing because that's one thing we were known for that season, is finishing the games and taking over the fourth quarter."
Florida State-Virginia Tech was a classic example of statistics that mislead. The Hokies outgained FSU 503-359 and had a nearly 13-minute edge in time of possession. They outrushed the Seminoles 278-30 and ran 24 more offensive plays.
But Tech lost three fumbles that night, including a potential game-changer in Florida State's end zone on its opening possession. The Hokies had a punt blocked for a touchdown and gave up a punt return for a score to Seminoles' All-American Peter Warrick.
While Tech redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick more than lived up to advance billing with 302 yards of offense and a pair of touchdowns, Warrick was equally sensational. He finished with six catches for 163 yards and two long touchdown plays, and another 59 yards in punt returns and a score.
"I think about some of the things that happened to us that normally don't happen to us," All-America defensive end Corey Moore said. "We had a punt blocked for a touchdown. That's what Virginia Tech does to people.
"We have a punt returned on us (for a touchdown). Peter Warrick was probably the best player in the country that year, but that doesn't happen to Virginia Tech. … Then, we had a blown defensive assignment (for a touchdown), and that doesn't happen to Virginia Tech very often."
Some wondered if the stage rattled the Hokies, who were playing in their third marquee bowl in five seasons but their first title game.
"I thought we had a very legitimate shot to win," head coach Frank Beamer said. "You know, we've been to a lot of bowls, but I'd be better the next time preparing my team for all the media. It's so time-consuming, and everything is scrutinized. I'd be better, I think we'd be better prepared for it. … This was just mind-boggling."
Beamer's play calling came under scrutiny as well. He went for a first down inside the FSU 5-yard line on the first possession, rather than kick a short field goal. He called for a fake field goal and a fake punt, and a pair of two-point conversions. All failed.
"Not really," Beamer said. "I thought they were good (calls) at the time. You get into those games and you don't want to back down. You want to be the aggressor."
Tech was the aggressor and had momentum heading into the fourth quarter. The Seminoles regained control with what many remember as the play of the game: a fourth-and-1 at their own 46.
Florida State backup quarterback Marcus Outzen entered the game in place of starter Chris Weinke, and many figured a quarterback sneak or dive into the line was coming. But Outzen pitched to Travis Minor on an option for a 16-yard gain.
Linebacker Jamel Smith also committed a 15-yard personal foul on the play, giving FSU the ball at Tech's 23. Four plays later, Florida State scored the go-ahead touchdown, the first of 18 consecutive points to conclude the game.
"We had tried everything in America to get back into that game, and it just kind of fizzled out," said Bustle, now the head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, about two hours and 15 minutes west of New Orleans.
"We spent so much time coming back, I think we exhausted our energy," said Moore, a graduate student at Michigan State. "The better team won that night, there's no doubt about it. Give them credit."
Florida State's 46 points were the most against Tech since a 52-21 loss at Syracuse in 1996. Only three times since the 2000 Sugar Bowl have the Hokies allowed more points.
"I think Florida State probably had more talent than we did collectively," Foster said, "but I still think we were the best team in college football that year."
Defensive-line coach Charley Wiles said, "We had a very talented team, a very motivated team. We had great chemistry and a lot of special kids who bonded and made a great season. But I feel like we blew an opportunity.
"It was very, very disappointing. You don't get many opportunities like that, and if you do, you have to take advantage of them and we couldn't quite do it."
Bustle enters his eighth season in Louisiana, yet thinks back occasionally to that team and that game.
"I still come across people down here who were at that game that night," he said, "and they tell me it was one of the best games they've ever seen. We just couldn't quite get it done."
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