Sports / College Football    

Cavs overcome mistakes, hand Devils their 22nd straight loss

By ED MILLER, The Virginian-Pilot
© September 9, 2007 | Last updated 10:46 PM Sep. 8


It was an improvement. Then again, it was Duke.

Virginia's 24-13 win Saturday comes with the big asterisk that any victory over the Blue Devils, who have now dropped 22 straight games, has to carry.

It also came with mistakes that would have cost the Cavaliers against virtually any other team. And, since it just wouldn't be an early-season Virginia game without some intrigue at the quarterback position, it had a dose of that, too.

Still, given their anemic performance in a 23-3 loss at Wyoming last week, the Cavaliers (1-1, 1-0 ACC) were happy to file this one in the "We'll take it" category, and look ahead to North Carolina on Saturday.

"We were better than we were last week," coach Al Groh said. "We're not as good as we need to be next week."

That summed up an afternoon in which long snapper Danny Aiken sailed two balls over punter Ryan Weigand's head, one resulting in a Duke safety. A third errant snap, this one low, resulted in a field goal being blocked and returned 61 yards to the Cavaliers' 34. Weigand also had a punt blocked.

Virginia also lost two fumbles in its own territory. Not that Duke (0-2, 0-1) was able to take advantage. The Blue Devils missed three field goals and had another scoring chance snuffed out by an interception.

"The missed opportunities just ripped our guts out," Duke coach Ted Roof said.

Particularly after Duke bounced back resiliently from an early 14-0 deficit, the result of a couple of big U.Va. plays: a 67-yard punt return by Vic Hall and a 58-yard touchdown run by Cedric Peerman.

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Peerman's run alone represented more than half of Virginia's entire offensive production last week, when it managed just 100 yards total against Wyoming. The figure was given last week as 110, but a mid-week change in the stats means it will forever stand as 100.

No matter the number, no one needed to tell the Cavaliers that they needed a drastically better offensive performance.

"We wanted to prove to ourselves and to everybody else that we could move the ball," tight end Tom Santi said.

Virginia did, with two quarterbacks. Sophomore Jameel Sewell started, but once again, true freshman Peter Lalich finished.

Groh planned to play both, and got an opportunity when Sewell began cramping on the sideline with seven minutes left in the first half.

Lalich finished the half and led a drive that resulted in a field goal that made it 17-2. Sewell started the second half and played three series that ended punt, fumble, punt.

The 6-foot-5 Lalich returned to a 17-13 game and closed out both it and Duke. Standing patiently in the pocket, holding the ball until receivers cleared, he completed 13 of 18 passes for 131 yards and a game-clinching 4-yard touchdown toss to Santi with 9:39 left.

"He's got very good poise and very good presence," Groh said. "He sees the field very well."

Sewell played better than a week ago, but was not as sharp as Lalich. Groh said he expects Sewell to start next week, but for both players to play throughout the season.

It's not a competition, he said, but a way of utilizing the differing skills of each.

Groh pointed out that Sewell and Lalich combined to complete 67 percent of their passes, a figure Virginia hadn't reached since last October. It had also been seven games since the Cavaliers had thrown a touchdown pass. Sewell and Lalich each threw one Saturday.

Modest improvement, to be sure, but enough to set off emotions the players had not felt in a while.

After Santi's touchdown catch, defensive end Chris Long, who led the team with eight tackles and two sacks, was feeling particularly excited, he said.

"I told Tom I loved him about six times after he caught the ball," Long said, laughing. "And I meant it, at that point."

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