Beating a rival when they are on top is about the most satisfaction a team can get, short of winning a title. But even when that rival is having a "down year," beating them in dramatic fashion is nearly as satisfying.
Like other college football powerhouses, Virginia Tech has left the Big East Conference. But before they did, they provided the opposition for one of Rutgers University's greatest wins ever, a Halloween homecoming day victory like no other.
It was October 31, 1992, and the United States was only days away from a presidential election that would see Bill Clinton succeed George Bush as the next chief executive. The Toronto Blue Jays were baseball's champions, and Tom Hanks reminded us that there was no crying in baseball when A League of Their Own premiered in theaters. Earlier in the year the Pittsburgh Penguins had taken the NHL title, and if that wasn't enough reality for the American public, The Real World premiered on MTV.
Two players who would go onto star in another great Rutgers victory in 1994, Ray Lucas and Marco Battaglia, were on the squad in 1992, but on this day, the spotlight belonged two young men who played trick-or-treat on the crowd that packed the old Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway that autumn afternoon.
The game was a high-scoring affair, due to the performance of Virginia Tech quarterback Maurice DeShazo (15-of-27 for 302 yards on the day). Meanwhile, Rutgers starting quarterback Bryan Fortay struggled, throwing five interceptions in the game, including one that had been returned for a touchdown by Ken Brown, giving Virginia Tech a 28-7 lead.
Rattled but not deflated, the Scarlet Knights drew closer and trailed by 12 at halftime, 35-23. But to the Rutgers fans that day, any hopes for a comeback appeared to be dashed early in the second half. DeShazo, who had thrown a touchdown pass in the first half, completed a 49-yard strike to wide receiver Antonio Freeman in the third quarter to extend the Virginia Tech lead to 42-23.
However, it was the plays which followed that gave hope to the faithful. Wide receiver Chris Brantley caught his third touchdown of the game to make the score 42-30. Then, with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, running back Craig Mitter punched it over on a one-yard dive, cutting the Hokie lead to 42-37.
This is when Coach Doug Graber's defense needed to dig in for a big stop. Instead, Virginia Tech marched down the field on their next possession with a six-play, 80-yard drive that again extended the Hokie's lead to 12 points, 49-37.
Undoubtedly, this was enough to send many of the most loyal fans to the exits, but those who stayed were treated to one of the most exciting finishes in the history of Rutgers football.
The Knights struck back quickly, and even though wide receiver Lance Evina caught a seven-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 49-44, even the most ardent alumni had to wonder if it was too little, too late. The stadium clock showed just 4:19 remaining in the game, and Rutgers was about to kickoff to the team that had just embarrassed the defense with an 80-yard touchdown drive.
But this time, the Rutgers defense held. The Knights got the ball back, only to have the hopes of the fans dashed again when Bryan Fortay threw yet another interception—his fifth of the game—giving the Hokies the ball and what appeared to be an apparent Virginia Tech victory.
Graber again called upon his defense and they responded. Using all of their timeouts to conserve precious time on the clock, Rutgers got the ball back with no timeouts and just 1:32 left to play in the contest.
Fortay took the Scarlet Knights down the field, and when he connected with Mario Henry on a 46-yard pass play, Rutgers was in striking distance on the Virginia Tech 15-yard line with just seven seconds left on the clock. On the game's final play, Fortay lined up in the shotgun, took the snap and heaved a prayer to the corner of the end zone where Chris Brantley—who caught his fourth touchdown of the day—hauled in the pass to give the Knights a 50-49 victory with no time remaining.
The fans streamed from the stands and mobbed the field in a postgame celebration, and the extra point was never attempted.
The hero of the game, Chris Brantley, finished with just six touchdowns for the entire season. He went on to a brief NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams and the Buffalo Bills. He also played in the Arena Football League, NFL Europe, and the short-lived XFL.
Bryan Fortay played one more season for the Scarlet Knights, and is eighth all time in passing touchdowns (25) at Rutgers. He is best known for his $10 million lawsuit (alleging a broken promise to be the Hurricanes' starting quarterback) against Miami University and its head coach, Dennis Erickson. Fortay is currently a vice president at a Philadelphia area surety company.
Particularly interesting, was one other player on the field that day: Tim Pernetti. A tight end with the Scarlet Knights, Pernetti finished his college career with one reception for 30 yards. Pernetti is currently the athletic director for Rutgers.
Coach Frank Beamer's Hokies would go onto greatness, becoming a perennial contender for the national championship. The homecoming game was the last time Rutgers beat Virginia Tech, and the Hokies have gone on to win the last 11 contests between the two teams. But for one day in October, 1992, Rutgers was the better team.