and Torrian Gray were part of two
championships and the first class in
football history to earn four consecutive bowl invitations. They faced a true freshman named
in the 1994
and two-time defending national champion Nebraska in the 1996
But nothing, individually or collectively, matches New Year’s Eve 1995, when Gray and Brown led a ravenous defense that keyed a 28-10
Gray, the Hokies’ defensive backs coach, and Brown, their outside linebackers coach, reflected on that night as the 2011 Tech team prepared for its Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl against Michigan in the same Superdome.
“We were just trying to find ourselves in the football world,” said Gray, a safety and second-round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings in 1997. “Won the
(over Indiana) two years (previous) and went to the Gator Bowl year after that, and oh, we’re playing Texas.”
“We wanted to have our own recognition,” said Brown, a defensive end and sixth-round draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens in 1997. “I don’t think anybody gave us respect or thought we really belonged, because we were the type of team in transition. We were improving, getting better year in and year out. We didn’t have the national name as a Texas.”
The Hokies opened 0-2 in 1995, losing to Boston College and
, before winning nine straight games. They had never played in a major bowl or finished among the nation’s top 10. Early on, despite Brown’s first-play sack of Longhorns quarterback James Brown, they looked like neophytes, falling behind 10-0.
“The biggest thing is just the overall attitude of the team,” Cornell Brown said. “We go down 10-zip against a powerful Texas team, I don’t think anybody blinked or got down. … We actually got better as the game went along, similar to the season we had.”
Indeed, Tech’s defense locked down – Williams finished with 62 yards rushing – and the offense awakened. Jim Druckenmiller’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Still on the opening drive of the fourth quarter gave the Hokies a 21-10 lead and unleashed the defense.
Twice Texas crossed midfield looking to make it a one-score game. Twice Gray intercepted Brown, with 10:09 and 7:33 remaining.
Both times the Hokies were playing what Gray said defensive coordinator Bud Foster called “5 bandit.” The alignment produced Gray’s first interceptions of the season.
“You’re in man-to-man except at the position I played, and I’m just freed up reading the quarterback,” Gray said. “James Brown, I don’t think he saw me either one. We hadn’t played it a lot all year, so maybe he didn’t see it on film or something. It was always my favorite coverage. We just didn’t call it a lot during the year.”
Then it was Cornell Brown’s turn. Tech’s sack leader during the regular season with 14, he jarred the ball loose from James Brown late in the fourth quarter, and defensive lineman Jim Baron returned the fumble 20 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
Cornell Brown added a third sack on Texas’ next possession as the Hokies concluded their season 10-2 and finished No. 10 in the Associated Press poll. The teams directly behind Tech in the poll:
, Southern California, Penn State and Texas, rare air for the school from southwestern Virginia.
No wonder the maroon-and-orange crowd flooded Bourbon Street afterward.
Laissez les bon temps roulez.
“Whenever it’s a game on that big a stage and you can go out and perform,” Brown said, “it’s always etched in your memory.”