It sure wasn't perfect. And it wasn't exactly pretty. But one week removed from an agonizing loss in Wyoming, Virginia will take it. The Cavaliers bounced back from a 20-point loss at Wyoming with a 24-13 victory at Scott Stadium on Saturday, defeating Coastal Division foe Duke in an often sloppy ACC contest.
Tom Santi caught two TD passes on the day, including this one from Peter Lalich.
"We're real pleased about that [outcome]. We were better than we were last week. We're not as good as we need to be next week, but that's for tomorrow," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "Most of the times we've won around here it has been because we've had more players step up and make good plays than the other side has had. When you do that, you usually end up with more points than the other team has. We had a number of players step up and make real good plays for us today in all phases of the game."
Were the Cavaliers relieved to get their first win?
"Yes," tight end Tom Santi said. "Like I was saying, we're taking them one at a time. We're 1-0 in the conference and we're going to celebrate this one then get ready for next week."
Offensively, UVa's numbers look a lot better than a week ago with 324 total yards that mixed 133 yards rushing with 191 passing. Truthfully, those statistics are skewed by 57 lost yards on bad snaps where the ball sailed out of the punter's reach - the Cavs would have produced 190 yards rushing without those plays and they only lost 12 yards on running plays during the day.
Santi led the way with two touchdown receptions as part of a six-catch, 54-yard performance. Cedric Peerman produced a career-high 137 yards rushing to go with 1 TD on 19 carries. UVa also had an efficient day in the passing category where the quarterbacks completed 68.8 percent of their passes. Starter Jameel Sewell connected on 9 of 14 for 60 yards and a score while adding 33 yards rushing; reserve Peter Lalich converted 13 of 18 attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown as well.
Groh said that the team would likely use a similar two-pronged approach going forward.
"We didn't have a plan for it other than we were going to play both players and I think that will be the plan from here on in," Groh said. "It's not a competition. It's utilizing all the weapons that we have and using all of the players in their best capacity."
Peter Lalich completed 13 of 18 passes for 131 yards and 1 TD.
Lalich certainly won some adoration from the Cavalier faithful with a critical scoring drive that bridged the final two quarters. Duke had trimmed the score to 17-13 on Joe Surgan's 21-yard field goal at the 1:04 mark of the third as the hosts found themselves in a Scott Stadium slugfest of sorts.
Lalich re-entered the game at that stage for the first time in the second half and calmly orchestrated a 15-play, 82-yard scoring march to essentially put the game away. On the drive, which started with 57 seconds left in the third before spanning the next 6:18, Lalich completed 8 of 10 passes that included three critical third down conversions. The final third down pick-up came from Duke's four-yard line where Lalich lofted a soft floater to Santi in the left side of the end zone. That touchdown gave UVa the 24-13 lead and eventual win.
"That was a real good drive. It's been a while since we saw one of those," Groh said. "We did it with third-down conversions. We did it with quick passes. We did it with some real tough running. Then, obviously, Pete and Tom hooked up real well on the touchdown. That was real positive, and it certainly gives us good hope here."
That sustained push was the Cavs only long scoring drive of the day. The remainder of the points came courtesy of big first quarter plays.
The first touchdown of the day (a 7-yard TD catch for Santi from Sewell at 11:40) was set up by a tremendous punt return from Vic Hall. The DB fielded the punt on the left side of the field, sprinted horizontally to get to the wall set up for a right side return, and then rolled down the sidelines for a 67-yard return to the Duke 4-yard line. It was the first runback of Hall's career and the program's longest punt return since Alvin Pearman's 70-yard touchdown return against Temple in 2004.
Cedric Peerman broke this run for 58 yards and a TD.
Moments later after a three-and-out from the Blue Devils, UVa broke free again. This time it was Peerman who delivered the fireworks as he cut through the left side of the line and surged up the sidelines for a 58-yard score. Ian-Yates Cunningham and Staton Jobe secured the touchdown with downfield blocks. The TD gave Virginia a 14-0 lead with 8:13 remaining in the first quarter.
"The offensive line did a great job all day," Peerman said. "The tight ends were solid and the wide receivers made a few key blocks downfield, and I was able to spring a few big runs."
While the win (the 600th in program history) improved the Cavaliers to 1-1 on the season and gave them the early Coastal Division lead, it may not have been impressive enough to satisfy restless Hoo fans who have bemoaned the showing in Laramie for a full week and counting. UVa's players are moving on, however, choosing to shrug off painted bridges and other distractions.
"It's a long year. Everybody was disappointed. I don't think anybody was more disappointed than the people in our locker room after last week," Santi said. "But you've got to remember, it's a long year. One game can't be a championship. So we just came back this week, got ready, [and] got a win; we'll celebrate, and get ready for next week and try to get another one."
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