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December 13, 2005

Hokies right back in Jacksonville

Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

Both Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Louisville's Bobby Petrino said they are looking forward to taking their teams to Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 2 for the Gator Bowl.

Only one is telling the whole truth.

Beamer's 12th-ranked Hokies will make a quick return to the site of their devastating loss in the ACC championship game when they take on Petrino's 15th-ranked Cardinals, who are coming off a strong first season in the Big East.

Beamer said all the right things after Virginia Tech (10-2) received its fifth invite to the Gator Bowl.

"I think it makes a great statement about our fans and how they support us, for the Gator Bowl to want us back after just being there for the ACC championship game," he said. "We look forward to playing a quality opponent like Louisville. The people at the Gator Bowl have always been gracious and we look forward to their hospitality."

This is the Hokies' first trip to the Gator Bowl since losing to Florida State in 2002. It also was the Seminoles, unranked at the time, that denied Virginia Tech an invite to a coveted BCS bowl on this same field as Florida State stunned the then-No. 5 Hokies 27-22 for the ACC title on Dec. 3.

Virginia Tech, which entered the game as a two-touchdown favorite, lost out on more than just an ACC championship in its first year in the conference and a potential trip to the Orange Bowl, where FSU will meet Penn State on Jan. 3.

It also squandered a chance to earn between $14-17 million in payout money. Instead, the Hokies will get $1.6 million for playing the Cardinals (9-2).

"It's really frustrating, especially with this being the championship game," Virginia Tech linebacker James Anderson said after the Hokies' fourth-quarter rally fell short against the Seminoles. "We wanted to come out and really play well and have some things go our way, but it can't happen like that all the time."

At the end of October, the Hokies were 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings, making them the team on the outside looking in at USC and Texas for a spot in the Rose Bowl to play for the national title.

But Virginia Tech lost 27-7 to Miami in Blacksburg, Va. on Nov. 5, and couldn't ride the momentum of consecutive blowout wins into the ACC title game, getting dominated for three quarters before quarterback Marcus Vick rallied the Hokies for 19 fourth-quarter points.

"You've just got to go out there and play with your heart," Virginia Tech wide receiver Josh Morgan said. "We play for pride now. Go out there and win the bowl game, come back next year strong and show everybody what to look forward to next year."

Vick threw for a career-best 335 yards against FSU, but it was his failure to break through against the Seminoles through the first 45 minutes, and his 8-for-22, two-interception effort against Miami that may be remembered most from an otherwise brilliant season.

The junior signal-caller completed nearly 62 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,190 yards for the Hokies, who averaged an ACC-best 33.8 points per game.

"Going into this game, there won't be any letdown," Tech tailback Cedric Humes said. "The way this team is, I think we'll have a chip out on our shoulder and come in ready to win and ready to finish this season out strong."

The Cardinals did just that by winning five in a row after a 46-44 loss at eventual Big East champion West Virginia on Oct. 15. Despite the loss of conference passing leader Brian Brohm to a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 26, Louisville beat Connecticut 30-20 on Dec. 3 to earn its first trip to the Gator Bowl.

"I think it will be an exciting matchup for our fans and I know our players will be excited about playing a high-quality opponent like Virginia Tech," Petrino said. "Virginia Tech has outstanding team speed on both sides of the football and are very well-coached. I know our players are excited and are looking forward to begin our bowl preparations."

Freshman Hunter Cantwell will make his second straight start at quarterback for the Cardinals after completing 16-of-25 for 271 yards with a touchdown and an interception against UConn. Big East rushing leader Michael Bush had 121 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

"To say I wasn't a little nervous would be lying," said Cantwell, who will return to his backup role when Brohm comes back for his junior year. "It's something I've been working towards my whole life, so it was good to get in there and get my feet wet."

Cantwell leads the nation's third-best offense, averaging 494 yards and 45.2 points, against the No. 3 defense. Virginia Tech has given up 239 yards and 12.0 points per game.

The Hokies hold a 4-2 advantage in this all-time series, but Louisville won the last matchup 21-17 on Oct. 10, 1992.

Tech is 1-3 all-time at the Gator Bowl, posting its lone win over Clemson in 2001.

For more coverage of the Virginia Tech Hokies, check out HokieHaven.com, and for more coverage of the Louisville Cardinals, check out CardinalSports.com.

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