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UVA FOOTBALL: Early fireworks carry Cavaliers
UVa explodes for 27 points in 1st quarter to pound Pitt

By Jay Jenkins  / jjenkins@dailyprogress.com | 978-7250
September 30, 2007

A half-filled Scott Stadium with four minutes to play means one of two things.

The late-game reaction of Virginia’s players, some that coincided with handshakes, hugs and high-fives, proved the reasoning without forcing a fan to peek into the night toward the stadium’s scoreboard.

Of course, many of those seats were still vacant when Virginia raced out to an insurmountable lead during the first 14 minutes of the game.

The quick start – Virginia scored 27 in the first quarter – coupled with a fourth-quarter resurgence, lifted the Cavaliers to an expected win over Pittsburgh by an improbable margin, 44-14, in front of a season-best crowd of 60,888.

With the lopsided victory, Virginia (4-1) pushed its winning streak to four games and exacted revenge for a telling, season-opening loss at Pitt (2-3) that started a postseason-less 2006 campaign.

“They were ready to jump in with both feet. This isn’t a stick-your-toe-in-the-water team,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “They were very ready to go tonight.”

Oddly enough for a team that entered with three wins by a total of 18 points, Virginia found itself trying to remain focused just seconds into fourth quarter after Pitt scored a touchdown on a 2-yard pass from quarterback Pat Bostick to wide receiver Oderick Turner to trim the Cavaliers’ lead to 30-14.

Luckily for Groh, he heard and saw everything he needed from his players over the game’s final 14 minutes.

“We have had some struggles here of late and we haven’t found ourselves in circumstance like that here in a long time, so we were certainly in new territory [up 16 points], but this team has demonstrated a very strong resolve and focus throughout,” Groh said. “Hearing what they were saying to each other, it was apparent that nothing needed to be said from the coaching staff. They were really reminding each other of that and about ‘One play at a time and don’t try to win the game, try to win the next play and that type of mentality.’

“We were pleased how they took leadership themselves and recognized the situation and kind of gathered themselves up.”

Credit quarterback Jameel Sewell and Cedric Peerman – the two combined for 67 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, which led to a pair of touchdowns.

Peerman capped a 6-play, 59-yard scoring drive with a 13-yard touchdown with 12:06 left in the game, pushing Virginia’s lead to 37-14. All of the yardage on the drive came on the ground from Peerman or Sewell.

“We responded [on that drive],” Groh said. “To the credit of the offensive line and the tight ends in that particular case, we told them that, ‘That’s the kind of drive it is going to be … and it’s up to you guys.’”

With just over five minutes left in the game and following an interception from safety Jamaal Jackson, Virginia holder Vic Hall scampered around the left side of the line to score a 4-yard touchdown on a fake field goal.

The score came after Sewell kept the drive alive with a quarterback sneak on fourth down and Virginia received a pair of pass-interference penalties against Pitt.

Running a fake field goal with the game all but over had more to do with the placement of the ball, Groh said.

“We had gone into the game feeling that the first field goal in a certain field position that we were going to call it,” the coach said after improving to 32-9 at Scott Stadium. “That was the first field goal in a certain field position and so we went with the plan that we had. It was not just towards the goal line, but hash-mark relative.”

Virginia’s quick start came as four different players scored in the first quarter.

After Pitt unsuccessfully tried to open the game with an onside kick, the Cavaliers marched 39 yards on four plays. Jonathan Stupar opened the game’s scoring with a 2-yard catch from Sewell just 83 seconds into the game. The extra-point attempt was blocked, giving the Cavaliers a 6-0 advantage.

After forcing one of seven Pittsburgh punts, Virginia scored again with 9:06 left in the quarter when tight end Tom Santi stole a jump ball on a 18-yard touchdown pass out the night air from Sewell.

“I expected the DB to play more over the top,” Sewell said, “but with all the confidence that I have in Tom Santi, I kinda figured he would come down with it.”

With 6:52 left in the opening session, fullback Rashawn Jackson scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard pass from Sewell, which gave the signal caller a career high in scoring passes in a game.

“We have been working on that play a lot,” said Sewell, who finished 16 of 31 passing for 169 yards. “That just showed that [Jackson] wanted to get in the end zone.

“He has that fight in him like we need from everybody to get in that end zone and help us win.”

Virginia added another score 82 seconds before the first quarter ended when Peerman capped a 21-yard drive with a touchdown run from a yard out. The 27-0 lead proved more than enough for the Cavaliers.

“It was a great start for us,” Groh said of the program’s best scoring quarter since dropping 30 against North Carolina State in 1999. “The first quarter was once again the story of what field position does during the course of the game. Once it is there, then the players have to go out and take advantage of it and they very good job of that.

“We were very sharp in the beginning.”

For the game, Virginia’s balanced attack finished with 342 yards of total offense. The Panthers mustered 288 yards, including 129 on the ground, but failed to convert 11 of their 16 chances on third down.

Peerman finished with 87 yards rushing on 24 carries and added 44 receiving yards.

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