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ACC Championship Game's debut in Tampa greeted by empty seats

A smattering of fans watch the game from the west end zone in the fourth quarter.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

A smattering of fans watch the game from the west end zone in the fourth quarter.

TAMPA — There was no way to hide it or sugarcoat it.

Though organizers said 53,927 tickets were sold and distributed for Saturday's ACC Championship Game that was held in Tampa for the first time, there was nowhere near that number of fans in the stands at 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium.

"Obviously, we're never going to be satisfied until we get this game sold out," said Michael Kelly, the ACC associate commissioner for football operations.

He said a sagging economy and an unprecedented short turnaround for both teams' fans to book travel were factors.

Boston College and Virginia Tech combined to sell only about 5,000 of their combined 20,000 ticket allotment. The same two schools sold 11,500 to last year's game in Jacksonville.

"At the end of the day, our goal was never 53,000; it was to have every seat filled," Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said. "I'm confident we can look in the mirror and say we did absolutely everything we could to try to create the best atmosphere."

Higgins said his group distributed returned tickets to more than 80 local charities and groups. He wouldn't say if the low ticket sale would mean a financial loss and there still were associated events, including a concert and high school all-star game, then a youth football gala today.

"As a whole, I'd say we're pleased on so many things," Kelly said, referring to creating a 48-hour celebration of ACC football, "but we have to get better in terms of reaching our (attendance) goal."

Declining attendance in the three years at Jacksonville (53,212 last year), which led to big financial losses for the community, prompted the ACC to move its fledgling game. Tampa has the game again next year before it moves to Charlotte for two years.

Not how he drew it up: B.C. redshirt freshman QB Dominique Davis, a former Lakeland Kathleen star, said it was exciting to be so close to home, but admitted he didn't prepare the way he should have as a result.

"My whole family was here; my mother, father, uncles, aunties, cousins. There were former coaches and teammates," he said. "I was more focused on how they thought I was going to play than how my team is going to play. … It wasn't the game I thought it was going to be. It was totally opposite."

ON THE RUN: Darren Evans' day (he had an ACC title game-record 114 rushing yards and one TD on 31 carries) capped what has been a pretty special redshirt freshman season for the budding Hokies star. On Saturday, he passed the 1,000-yard mark on his first carry, for 4 yards. Evans heads to the Orange Bowl with 1,111 yards and 10 touchdowns.

His yardage total is the third-best for an ACC freshman.

"I thought Darren ran hard, ran tough," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.

The coach's only complaint? Evans lost two fumbles.

Times staff writer Keith Niebuhr contributed to this report.

ACC Championship Game's debut in Tampa greeted by empty seats 12/06/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 6, 2008 8:11pm]
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