NEW ORLEANS — As Brady Hoke trotted across the Superdome field, his Michigan players celebrating all around him, a big bucket of ice water suddenly came splashing down on the coach’s head.
It had been quite a while since the Wolverines won a BCS bowl and they were going to enjoy it.
“All the tough times we’ve been through makes it even more special,” senior defensive tackle Mike Martin said. “To be the fifth team that ever in Michigan history has won 11 games in a season, it means a lot.”
Brendan Gibbons drilled a 37-yard field goal down the middle in overtime, lifting No. 13 Michigan to a 23-20 victory over 17th-ranked Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome on Tuesday night.
The victory capped an impressive debut season for Hoke, who has led the Wolverines (11-2) back to prominence with their first BCS bowl victory since the 2000 Orange Bowl.
“I’m just real proud,” Hoke said, noting that only five Michigan teams in 132 have won 11 games in a season. “Real proud of our seniors, real proud of how they took this football team last January and molded it and did a tremendous job,”
Denard Robinson highlighted an otherwise unspectacular night with touchdown passes of 45 and 18 yards to game MVP Junior Hemingway.
“It shows everything we put in from Day One, all the long days, long nights,” Hemingway said, his voice cracking with emotion. “Man, I’m telling you, it feels too good, man. Too good.”
Virginia Tech gave the Wolverines all they could handle and might have won if not for some key miscues.
“I’m about half-sick right now,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “They weren’t stopping us; we were stopping ourselves.”
Virginia Tech (11-3) more than doubled Michigan’s total yards, 377-184, and had 22 first downs to Michigan’s 12, but settled for four field goals in regulation by third-string kicker Justin Myer.
However, Myer was unable to connect on his fifth try from 37 yards away in the opening possession of overtime.
Robinson finished 9 for 21 for 117 yards passing and threw an interception. He rushed 13 times for a season-low 13 yards.
“I feel like this was a team that didn’t quit and we just kept fighting,” Robinson said. “We held everybody accountable for what we had to do to win.”
Virginia Tech first-year starter Logan Thomas was 19 of 28 of 214 yards with one interception.
Thomas scored Tech’s only touchdown on a 1-yard keeper that tied the game at 17 — after a 2-point conversion — early in the fourth quarter.
Virginia Tech senior receiver Danny Coale had eight catches for 117 yards, and nearly made a spectacular diving catch for a touchdown in overtime. Coale held on to the ball for what was initially ruled a score, but the play was overturned on video review, which showed the receiver narrowly landed on the sideline.
“Danny’s play is so close, and it seemed like there was just quite a few of those there tonight,” Beamer said.
The result of that third-down play forced Tech to try for Myer’s failed field goal.
Michigan then used three runs to set up Gibbons in the middle of the field.
As his kick sailed through, Gibbons sprinted toward the Wolverines’ sideline and was mobbed by teammates while the Michigan band belted out the school’s fight song, “The Victors,” while Michigan fans, in rhythm, thrust a sea of maize pom-poms in the air.
Virginia Tech fell behind late in regulation after gambling on a fake punt. Michigan’s Jake Ryan stopped it at the Tech 45, leading to a short drive that set up Gibbons’ go-ahead 39-yard field goal with 4 minutes left.
That left just enough time for the Hokies to tie it, even though they had to start at their own 9 after a holding penalty on the kickoff.
Thomas marched the Hokies 83 yards in 3:58, setting up Myer’s game-tying 25-yarder.
Hemingway staked Michigan to a 17-6 lead in the third quarter when he soared over Tech’s Antone Exum for an 18-yard catch in the back of the end zone. The scoring drive was set up by an even more difficult grab by reserve Michigan linebacker Frank Clark, who leaped and reached high over his head to snag Thomas’ pass at close range, returning the interception to the Tech 35-yard line.
“I was just trying to dump it over his head. He timed his jump perfectly and got his hands on it and came down with it,” Thomas said. “He made a great play.”
Tech cut it to 17-9 on Myer’s 36-yard field goal, then tied the game after Thomas’ 13-yard scramble on fourth-and-11 sustained the drive that ended with his touchdown.
Virginia Tech dominated most of the first half, taking a 6-0 lead on Myer’s field goals of 37 and 43 yards, and could have led by more had the Michigan defensive line not stuffed Thomas on fourth-and-1 on the Wolverines 4.
Michigan then drove to midfield with the help of a roughing the punter penalty, setting up Robinson’s first big play.
The quarterback yanked his leg from a defender’s grasp and unleashed a long throw while scrambling right. Virginia Tech free safety Eddie Whitley went for an interception but mistimed it, allowing Hemingway to make the grab with no one between him and the end zone.
Michigan got the ball right back when Tech’s Tony Gregory fumbled the ensuing kickoff return.
Michigan nearly botched a field goal attempt soon after, but holder Drew Dileo’s pass to no one in particular was tipped into the hand of long snapper Jareth Glanda for a first down on the 8, setting up a shorter field goal for a 10-6 halftime lead.