Virginia Tech wide receiver Tayvion Robinson high school senior watching from the stands last year as his future team fell in one of the more improbable results of the college football season.
The native of Virginia Beach watched in disbelief as the 13th-ranked Hokies lost, 49-35, in Norfolk to a program that had been playing major college football for only four years and did not even exist for decades until it was restarted in 2009. The Monarchs, who had never before beaten a team from a Power Five conference, entered the game 0-3 and would finish the season 4-8.
“I was shocked,” Robinson said about that outcome as the Hokies, who were a four-touchdown favorite, prepared for the rematch Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium.
Coincidentally or not, the ignominious defeat was a pivot point for Virginia Tech. The game got away from the Hokies after starting quarterback Josh Jackson left early in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 28. Two days later, Coach Justin Fuente revealed Jackson would be out indefinitely with a broken fibula.
The redshirt sophomore did not take another snap at Virginia Tech and transferred to Maryland this past offseason.
Additional fallout came when Fuente announced the day after the stunning loss that Trevon Hill was being dismissed for failing to meet team standards. The junior defensive end had been among the best pass rushers for the Hokies, who allowed 495 passing yards and five total touchdowns to a quarterback, Blake LaRussa, who started the game on the bench.
Virginia Tech permitted 632 total yards to Old Dominion, the most in Bud Foster’s 24 years as Virginia Tech’s decorated defensive coordinator.
The Hokies went on to lose five of their next seven games, including four a in a row, and ended with their first losing record since 1992 amid a patchwork defense beset by injuries and inexperience. Including last week’s season-opening loss at Boston College, Virginia Tech has lost eight of 12 games since falling to the Monarchs.
“I mean, that was obviously a big event,” Fuente said of the loss to ODU while also pointing out Virginia Tech played perhaps its most complete game of the year the following week in a 31-14 win against Duke. “How we’ve handled adversity, I think our guys have done a great job of it.
“I’m not trying to get corny, but things don’t always go your way in football, in life, and you can’t just sit around and complain about it. You’ve got to stand up, roll your sleeves up and go back to work. I think our guys understand that. I think they’re anxious to go play again.”
Apart from the Hokies (0-1) seeking redemption in their home opener, another layer of intrigue surrounding the intrastate showdown includes two former Virginia Tech players and one assistant who are with the Monarchs (1-0) this season.
Old Dominion Coach Bobby Wilder announced Monday that Chris Cunningham and Eric Kumah, both of whom began their careers at Virginia Tech, would be captains for the game, joining regular captains Lawrence Garner and Isaac Weaver.
Kumah, a wide receiver, and Cunningham, a tight end, both declared their intention via social media posts in January to transfer out of Virginia Tech.
Wilder even addressed a published report in which anonymous sources suggested that several players no longer associated with Virginia Tech were partly to blame for the Hokies’ downward spiral.
“That was bothersome and hurtful to both of those players to be associated with a situation where they might have been considered responsible for the lack of wins last year,” Wilder said. “You look at those two guys, and I think you can say they both were playing their tails off for Virginia Tech last year.”
Cunningham’s position coach this season is first-year assistant Bryan Stinespring, whose history with the Hokies covers more than a quarter-century.
Hired to be ODU’s tight end coach and run game coordinator, Stinespring spent 26 years at Virginia Tech, serving as the Hokies’ offensive coordinator from 2002 through ’12 and recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach from 2012 through ’15.
Stinespring was Maryland’s offensive line coach last season.
“Obviously you cross over a lot in this business,” Foster said. “Bryan and my situation is probably different because we were together for 25-plus years. Outstanding football coach, even a better man. I have the utmost respect for Bryan as a football coach, as a person, and love him as a friend.”
One player the Hokies won’t be going up against: LaRussa. The quarterback, who took over the starting role for the Monarchs after the upset, announced after the season he would forgo his final season of eligibility to attend seminary.