Joey Blount: Still one more streak before he’s done
Steven Peoples, rumbling in the red zone inside of two minutes to go, fumbled at the Tech 5, stripped by Joey Blount, who, for a moment, was the only person anywhere near the ball as it bounded into the end zone.
Blount corrals the ball, and the game – and The Streak – is over.
My seat in the press box at Lane Stadium was aligned with the Tech end zone.
That moment that I described, the one where Blount was the only guy near the ball, was long enough for me to think, and then mouth the words, It’s over. It’s finally over.
Only, it wasn’t.
Footballs don’t roll, bounce, in predictable ways.
They’re oblong, prone to taking unpredictable paths.
Hezekiah Grimsley, coming in out of nowhere, fell on the still bounding ball.
Touchdown Tech, game tied, we’re going to OT, and dammit, it happened again.
UVA had lost to Tech in the most UVA way possible.
The Streak would live on, to 15.
You have to love it that Blount was back on the field a year later when the ball was bounding around in the ‘Hoos end zone in the waning moments, and this time, a good guy – in this case, Mandy Alonso – was the one to fall on it.
The game, The Streak, finally over.
One streak – little -s – still lives on.
Virginia hasn’t won in Blacksburg since 1998.
Blount would love to be a part of putting that one to bed.
“The win last year definitely pushed the program, pushed the culture in, I would say, a linear, positive direction,” Blount said. “It kind of just sets in tone. Coach Mendenhall preaches, it’s not if, but when. And last year was a start of a trend that we’re working towards, and we want to make it a yearly thing, you know, Beat Tech.”
Blount came to Virginia as a two-star recruit – shows what the recruiting gurus knew, since he’s been a two-time All-ACC guy in his time on Grounds, which also includes him already having earned his undergraduate degree, and shifting his focus for his athletics senior year to working on a master’s in education.
Back on the field, he has been a foundational piece in the rebuild by Bronco Mendenhall, playing in all 13 games his true freshman year, in 2017, which ended with UVA earning its first bowl bid in six years.
Then in 2018, Blount had 65 tackles, two INTs and two forced fumbles for a Virginia team that recorded the program’s first bowl win since 2005, with a 28-0 beatdown of South Carolina, in which Blount had four tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
Blount, as a junior in 2019, was second on the team with 95 tackles, and led the secondary with three INTs, in a season that ended with the Cavaliers playing in their first-ever Orange Bowl.
Injuries have limited Blount’s time on the field in 2020 – he returned last week for the win over Boston College, just his fourth game played this season.
But he’s healthy, and ready for his last chance at Virginia Tech.
“Wrapping up with this final win in Blacksburg would just add more to the story of the team,” Blount said. “We’ve been working in every game, and working so hard with the protocols and following what our medical staff is talking about, preaching to us.
“Coming through this season has been up and downs a lot. And to finish it out with, you know, a potential win in Blacksburg would just, you know, add to the story, we look back at this season. You can look at everything that’s happened to teams around the division, but you can just know UVA, like, worked as hard as they could, they did everything they possibly could have, and did what they could given the hand that was played to them. And they made it happen.”
The best thing about the walkup to the rivalry game in 2020 is: no questions about, is this finally the year?
You get the sense, though, that Blount, for one, is one who does better acknowledging the chip on his shoulder.
“Breaking that streak last year was a huge … was a pivotal point in the culture and what we were trying to do at UVA,” said Blount, who hopes there’s a “snowball effect” in terms of momentum, “where it just keeps going and going and going, and trending the right way.”
“I would say I want to keep the monkey on my back to make sure that we keep focusing this week, and not to just let, you know, injuries that they may have, or protocols, or COVID, whatever the excuses could be, to prevent us from working hard, and considering it like we haven’t won in 15 years,” Blount said.
“I think that the mindset that we had last year going into the game is what helped us win the game, and I think that if we change our mindset, and look at it from a different perspective of, we’ve already started winning, it will be fine, that’s when it can sneak up, and we can be disappointed in ourselves,” Blount said. “So going into this game, I really hope, and I’m going to preach to the team, this week is, it’s Tech Week, it’s a big week for all of us. We need to go into the game with the mindset that we’re the underdog, that we haven’t won, we have a statement to show. And I think it’s going be very important for our concentration, focus, and preparation for sure this week.”
Blount, reflecting on the game that ended The Streak, was almost wistful.
“That was an all-around great game,” he said. “The chemistry was there, the energy was there. Our team was just excited to be in that moment. Coach Howell (Nick Howell, the team’s defensive coordinator) talks about, you can’t look in the past, you can’t look in the future. Being in that moment, you have to focus on that. And for that game, everyone was in that moment, focusing on the next play, not the last play, but the next play, and how can you give your 110 percent for each play, and the one-eleventh of your job, everyone else’s job.
“Looking back, there’s a lot of different things I can look back on again, because this is a fine memory, but I would say that just the cohesiveness of the team, and execution from every person, is what made that game fall in our favor.”
The two teams were supposed to kick off the 2020 season against each other on Sept. 12, but the game got pushed back because of COVID-19 test and contact tracing issues within the Virginia Tech program.
Blount, ready to cap his college career, is happy with how things worked out in that respect.
“The culmination of this season, I think it’s playing out just as it should. Virginia playing Virginia Tech, last game of the season, in Blacksburg, it’s going to be a hell of a game, for sure,” Blount said.
Story by Chris Graham