MIAMI (AP) -Virginia Tech's heartwarming season ended with a loss in the Orange Bowl. The tribute, though, was completed just the same.
Intent on honoring the 33 people killed and dozens injured in a campus massacre last spring, the fifth-ranked Hokies put together a successful season that concluded Thursday night with a 24-21 defeat against Kansas.
The final chapter was exhausting, like so many of the twists and turns along the way. Virginia Tech fell behind, battled back, but never quite got even with No. 8 Kansas. The Jayhawks blocked a 25-yard field-goal try that would have tied the score in the third quarter, added a late touchdown and held on to win.
In many ways, the game was just like the Hokies' remarkable season, a roller-coaster trip of highs and lows, all with the April 16 victims in mind.
Even the team's traditional lunch pail, signifying the work ethic the coaching staff considers a Hokies hallmark, carried the names and ribbons for the victims.
It was with those thoughts that it all began on Sept. 1.
Some of the players were nearly overcome with emotion as Virginia Tech prepared for its home opener against East Carolina, the team's first opportunity to present itself as the public face of a university that the nation had cried for, prayed for, admired.
After a narrow victory, the Hokies traveled to LSU with high expectations, knowing that another victory could quickly boost them into the thick of the national championship race.
Instead, they were embarrassed 48-7 on national television, a demoralizing performance that brought changes to the lineup and questions about the team's talent.
It could have been the beginning of a swoon, but instead it was galvanizing.
The seniors - 20 of them - called a team meeting, told the rest of the squad that hanging their heads would not be allowed and challenged them to help turn it around.
Five consecutive wins followed, and then a heart-wrenching loss to Boston College in which the acclaimed defense allowed two touchdowns in the final 2:11 of a 14-10 defeat.
It was another gut-check for the Hokies, and again they responded.
They closed the regular season by beating Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami and Virginia in succession, the last one earning them a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. There, they got revenge on Boston College by winning 30-16.
The victory earned them their spot in the Orange Bowl, and against a team whose coach said he had studied coach Frank Beamer's program before building his own.
The loss was the third of the season for the Hokies, all of them crushing.
But even as victory music began blaring, Kansas began celebrating and the Hokies retreated to their locker room, their fans cheered their beloved maroon and orange.
With the weight of a community's hope and healing on their shoulders all season, the Hokies demonstrated the fight and pride and caring that Blacksburg needed most.
In the end, that would have to be enough.

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