NEW ORLEANS — Brady Hoke leaned in, hugged Junior Hemingway and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Hemingway’s Most Outstanding Player Trophy sat on the table in front of him, and Hoke wore a smile as he took his seat.

Earlier, Hemingway cried on his mother’s shoulder while celebrating Michigan’s 23-20 overtime victory in the Sugar Bowl over No. 13 Virginia Tech. Hoke always said he’d lead with his seniors, and a fifth-year senior had capped the coach’s blessed first season with a win.

“You’ve got to have guys who can make those plays, and when (Denard Robinson and Hemingway) are the ones doing it, you feel pretty good about it,” said Hoke, whose team became just the fifth in modern Michigan football history to win 11 games.

On a day Michigan amassed just 184 yards of offense, it wasn’t Denard Robinson or Fitzgerald Toussaint that saved the day, it was “Big Play” Hemingway, as Robinson calls him. No one will be quick to call Michigan’s win pretty, but the few plays Michigan did make came at the most crucial of times, when the game was in the balance.

The first half had belonged to Virginia Tech, but Michigan held the lead. The second half belonged to the Hokies too, but Michigan had overtime. When overtime came, Virginia Tech’s third-string kicker — who had was a perfect 2-for-2 to that point — missed a 37-yard field goal. Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons made his 37-yarder.

After the game, Hemingway found his place on the stage at the 20-yard line, maize and blue confetti falling, right near where he initially caught in his first touchdown catch-and-run.

At that point, right was left. Up was down. And, still, Junior Hemingway was celebrating in the end zone.

Call it magic. Call it luck. But Robinson and Hemingway routinely made plays like this all season.

Robinson had thrown a pick on just his second pass attempt of the game, when he lofted a ball toward Hemingway, who had a one-on-one matchup. Earlier this week, Robinson said he wouldn’t second-guess himself when he looked towards Hemingway.

“We had a lot of confidence in that combination,” Hoke said.

With Virginia Tech romping and the half winding down, Robinson had Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech’s best cornerback, reaching for his ankles. But the junior quarterback reloaded and fired off his back foot as two more Hokies crashed into him.

The ball floated. Virginia Tech safety Eddie Whitley whiffed on the pick, while his teammate, Antone Exum, was two steps out of place. The ball landed neatly in Hemingway’s hands. The fifth-year senior raced for a 45-yard touchdown.

For Robinson, it was another head-scratching decision that turned out OK. Borges has resigned himself to the fact that his quarterback doesn’t always listen to the advice he gave him before the season: “Make plays and let God do the miracles.”

“Sometimes he elbows God outta the way and decides he wants to do it anyway,” Borges said.

On that play, Michigan inexplicably took its first lead, 7-6.

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas had put on an aerial show, lasering passes in and around a Michigan secondary that lived almost exclusively by the motto “bend, but don’t break.” His favorite target was receiver Danny Coale, who was a nuisance for the Michigan secondary all game.

And Thomas’s running back, ACC Player of the Year David Wilson, found room on the edges, where so many teams exploited Michigan this season.

On defense, the Hokies’ front seven blitzed Robinson, containing him to modest gains. Toussaint’s quickness wasn’t always enough, either.

Virginia Tech had more yards in the first half than Michigan did the entire game (185), but the Hokies were held to just six points due to an opportunistic Michigan defense and timely mistakes.

“This defense made this game happen,” said redshirt sophomore tackle Taylor Lewan. “Because God knows our offense didn’t.”

On Virginia Tech’s first drive of the game, facing a first-down-and-goal, with the ball on their own 4-yard line, Wilson bounced outside. But he quickly aborted the original plan, as his offensive line lie obliterated on the ground. Thomas Gordon, Craig Roh, Jordan Kovacs, Jibreel Black and Jake Ryan stared him down like a pack of foaming dogs. Relentless, they chased Wilson as he retreated.

Briefly, Wilson entertained the thought of running around them. But Ryan accelerated, wrapping Wilson and hurling him down 22 yards from where the play started.

Virginia Tech settled for a field goal.

Then, with a chance to demoralize Michigan and build on a 6-0 lead, facing a fourth-and-1 again on the Wolverines’ 4-yard line, Thomas tried to sneak the ball himself. Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen stuffed him.

Virginia Tech came away with no points.

After Hemingway’s touchdown catch — and right on cue — senior special teamer J.B. Fitzgerald forced a fumble on the kickoff and Michigan tacked on a field goal.

Early in the second half, the defense complemented “Big Play” Hemingway again. Freshman defensive end Frank Clark snatched a screen pass out of the air, and four plays later Hemingway was celebrating.

Robinson threw the ball high and far, where only Hemingway could reach it. He tiptoed the sidelines and came down with the catch. The play was reminiscent of his missed opportunity at Iowa, when Hemingway couldn’t come down in bounds with a high pass.

In his head, he thought: “Please, Denard, throw this up. Please, I want you to so bad.”

The 17-6 lead allowed Michigan breathing room, as Thomas led the Hokies back with two consecutive scoring drives — a field goal and a touchdown. A beautiful pass to the back of the end zone converted the two-point conversion, tying the game.

But Michigan no longer needed “Big Play” Hemingway’s services.

Coale, who kicked in high school, was called upon to punt earlier in the game for the Hokies. He was no slouch kicking the ball, but with the game tied 17-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer elected to call the fake.

The Wolverines had trouble covering the Hokie receivers and slowing Thomas’s quarterback runs, but they snuffed Coale’s run out. Then Gibbons nailed a 39-yarder, which was enough to get Michigan to overtime.

His teammates knew Hemingway had carried them there.

“Real big impact,” Toussaint said. “I’m kind of speechless about that. He was outstanding tonight.”

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