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Nonetheless, it was Cincinnati that looked very much at home in the beginning of its BCS debut.The Bearcats took the opening kickoff, sent their spread offense onto the field and made the Hokies look very confused. Pike found Gilyard for a 38-yard pickup on the third play from scrimmage, and they hooked up for a spectacular 15-yard touchdown three plays later to open the scoring.
Facing a third-and-9 from the right hash, Pike waited ... waited ... waited ... before lofting a fade to the far left of the end zone. Gilyard took off on a sprint, made a diving catch as he sailed out of bounds and managed to just barely drag his right toe on the turf painted in Virginia Tech's colors for a 7-0 Cincinnati lead.
It looked easy.
Ah, but the nation's seventh-ranked defense would eventually get its bearings.
"We don't always play well but we always play hard," Beamer said. "That's what we did tonight."
The Hokies held Cincinnati to 137 yards, rendered the Bearcats' running game nonexistent (eight carries, 11 yards) over the remainder of the half, and battled their way to a 10-7 lead by intermission.
Taylor tied the game with a zig-zig-zag rushing effort from 17 yards early in the second quarter. Out of the shotgun on third-and-9, he started straight ahead, darted right, cut back left and then made a sharper move to run just past the pylon -- the quarterback's seventh rushing score of the season.
Cincinnati had a great chance to reclaim the lead later in the second, until Pike made the sort of error he avoided all season, throwing into what essentially was triple-coverage while trying to force the ball to Dominick Goodman in the back of the end zone.
He came into Thursday with seven interceptions on the year.
"We just did not play our very best," Kelly said.
Stephan Virgil made the interception, the Hokies went 54 yards in 11 plays and Dustin Keys' 43-yard field goal ended the half.
Keys made a 35-yarder to open the third for a 13-7 lead. Pike then threw another interception on the ensuing Cincinnati possession, Kam Chancellor getting the takeaway for the Hokies, sparking plenty of fist-shaking and helmet-slapping on an excited Virginia Tech sideline.
It wasn't exactly a delirious crowd, though.
There were large patches of empty seats in Dolphin Stadium, which wasn't altogether unexpected. Some tickets were available through online resale outlets in recent days -- even Thursday morning -- for $1. Plenty more were offered for well below face value, and the building looked a bit emptier after the Doobie Brothers finished their halftime set.
Event officials said 15,781 sold tickets were unused.
And by the end, it seemed like only the heartiest Hokies fans remained to regale the back-to-back ACC champs one final time.
"In the past we haven't been the top dog at the end," Harris said, "but tonight, that all changed."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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