Victory never tasted so sweet.
Michigan built this season on its defense. All it asked was for enough offense to get by.
Yet Denard Robinson couldn’t run and, aside from two spectacular passes for touchdowns to Junior Hemingway, could barely pass.
Still, in overtime the warped rules showed they didn’t need to march anywhere, as Michigan stole the Sugar Bowl with a field goal, 23-20 at the Superdome on Tuesday before a disappointing crowd of 64,512.
Tech (11-3) had its chance in overtime, getting an apparent touchdown catch by Danny Coale overturned, then missing a 37-yard field goal as third-string kicker Justin Myer pushed it to the right after a perfect night previously.
That set up three set-up runs for the Wolverines’ Brendan Gibbons to line up his own 37-yarder, sealing the win for Michigan (11-2), becoming the fifth team in the modern era of Michigan football to win 11 games.
After Michigan’s stagnant offense piddled its way forward – the Wolverines had 34 yards of offense in the second half and 51 yards rushing for the game – they meekly took the lead at 20-17 with a 39-yard field goal by Gibbons with exactly four minutes remaining.
It was just enough time for the Hokies to march down the field with their effective offense and tie the score at 20, forcing the overtime.
Michigan had every chance to get off the field at the start of the fourth quarter, but was done in by its inexplicable issues on third and fourth down. Four times on its drive to open the fourth quarter, the Hokies converted. They did it twice on long runs by quarterback Logan Thomas and then, at the most critical moment, freshman Blake Countess was called for a pass interference, giving Tech the ball at the two.
After a Thomas rush and a two-point conversion, the game was tied at 17.
The key drive of the second half had a ton of Michigan magic.
It began because freshman defensive end Frank Clark, subbing, improbably snatched a screen pass right out of the air.
Then, for the second time in the quarter, Robinson threw an interception to Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley.
Yet, just like the first one, it came right back. The first was overturned on review and the second not only went back to Michigan because of a pass interference, it allowed the Wolverine to advance to ball.
You can only give Robinson so many chances, and he took one, hitting Junior Hemingway in the back of the end zone for the 17-6 lead.
In a first half that reminded stats are only an indicator, not the result, the Wolverines were holding their lucky charms.
They floundered for most of the 20 minutes, getting outgained 185-145 and were stuffed too many times on their own offense.
But they kept finding a way.
The defense held Virginia Tech to just two field goals on its first two possessions, despite getting shredded in yardage.
Then Michigan coordinator Greg Mattison’s defense found its “place to stand” and pulled off a stop on fourth and on the Wolverines’ four.
Michigan’s offense did little to seize on the gift, yet while deep in their own territory, backup punter Matt Wile drew a roughing call, keeping the drive alive.
Long enough for them to appear to be stalling out with a third and 17 at the Tech 45 – until Robinson scrambled and threw deep. Virginia Tech safety Eddie Whitely gambled and missed, allowing Junior Hemingway to walk in with a 45-yard touchdown for Wolveriness first points and the 7-6 lead.
Considering how Michigan played, that was a gift with 49 seconds left.
At least until Tech fumbled the kickoff, giving the Wolverines yet another chance with 38 seconds left.
They nearly ruined that one too, setting up for a field goal. Instead, they ran a fake, holder Drew Dileo threw into coverage and the ball bounced off a Tech player into the hands of Wolverines long snapper Jareth Glanda for the first down.
In the end, that just set up a Gibbons’ 24 yard field goal, giving Michigan a 10-6 lead they had no business holding.
Victory never tasted so sweet.