Lane Stadium on a Thursday night is a recruiting pitch that sells itself.
For more than a decade, those ESPN primetime games have given the Hokies national exposure many never dreamed of and are a big reason Lane Stadium is considered one of the toughest places to play in the country.
“It’s probably when Lane is at its best, those Thursday night games,” said Bruce Taylor, linebacker.
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The Hokies have hosted a Thursday night game on ESPN every year since 2002. In 30 games all time on Thursday, the Hokies are 22-8; they are 45-22 all time on ESPN.
Prior to the 1999 season, Virginia Tech had few marquee wins in program history. National perception of the Hokies changed on a cool September Thursday evening against Clemson in 1999.
On that night, the No. 8 Hokies — their highest ranking ever at that point — pulled away in a 31-11 win. Bud Foster’s defense harassed Clemson quarterback Brandon Streeter all night, finishing with an astounding five sacks and 15 quarterback hurries to go along with a fumble recovery and interception returned for touchdowns.
The player of the game that night was undoubtedly Tech’s senior defensive end Corey Moore. The ESPN broadcast crew of Mike Tirico, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit could not stop gushing about the undersized Moore’s ability to rush the passer.
Sideline reporter Jerry Punch interviewed Streeter’s father on the sideline as Moore finished up a two-sack, five-quarterback hurry performance. In his final act of the night, Moore strip-sacked Streeter and returned the fumble for a touchdown.
ESPN cameras showed Moore and the Hokies celebrating on the sideline, clinching an early season win on the way to an 11-0 regular season.
Moore looked defiantly into the camera and stated: “Welcome to the Terror Dome.”
From that moment forward, Lane Stadium has been a house of horrors for opposing teams.
Before the 2000 season, Virginia Tech erected a scoreboard with a large video screen, and the famous “Enter Sandman” entrance was born. As that caught on, so did the national attention the Hokies received.
Over the next five years, the Hokies got big wins and big performances in those Thursday night games. Players like Michael Vick and Andre Davis led the way in 2000 against West Virginia, including Davis’ rushing, receiving and punt return touchdown.
Those Vick-led teams then passed the torch to Bryan Randall, Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones for the next several years, highlighted by a 35-19 drubbing of Texas A&M in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel.
In 2005, Marcus Vick led the Hokies to as high as No. 3 in the polls, highlighted by a dominating 30-10 win over Boston College on a late October Thursday. Although the Hokies would lose to Miami and Florida State over their next four games, it was the first time the Hokies had been ranked inside the top 10 for an entire regular season.
In 2008, Darren Evans made a statement in Thursday night win over Maryland, punishing the Terrapins to the tune of 253 yards on 32 carries, the most yards in a single game by a Hokies back ever.
Today’s players, many of whom have played in a handful of Thursday night contests themselves, remember hearing about Lane Stadium’s reputation on a Thursday night before they even came to Blacksburg.
“This is definitely the kind of game I want to play in,” said Dyrell Roberts. “I had a chance to see a couple Thursday night games my senior year (in high school). They played Clemson down there (on a Saturday), and a couple other games they played here; the Boston College game and stuff like that. Thursday night games — you live for stuff like this.”
Even players like true freshman J.C. Coleman, who hasn’t played in a Thursday night game in Lane himself, has heard what that environment can be like.
“You always hear about the fans and how crazy it is,” Coleman said. “Just being a Thursday night game, that’s something everybody talks about. We had the Georgia Tech game on a Monday night and that was a great atmosphere, so Lane Stadium at nighttime is real crazy.”