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- The Virginian-Pilot
© September 16, 2007
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
As formulas go, the one Virginia used to escape with a 22-20 win at North Carolina Saturday is not one the Cavaliers are going to be able to bottle and use again anytime soon.
It took a batted-down pass by the shortest member of Virginia's defensive front to finally turn back the Tar Heels, who had moved 85 yards in 90 seconds to come within a two-point conversion of tying the game.
It took what might have been the longest field goal in college football history. Not by distance - the kick was a mere 48 yards - but by time elapsed from when the ball looped over the crossbar until officials raised their arms to signal it good.
And, on a day when Virginia's safeties dropped a pair of room-service interceptions, it took 280-pound defensive end Chris Long to finally hold onto one, rumble 25 yards with it, and set up what proved to be the winning field goal.
If this is what it takes to win on the road, little wonder Virginia has often failed to do so over the last three seasons.
"It's not the formula," Long said. "But sometimes you make mistakes and it makes a win all the more gratifying and you realize you really have to stick it out as a team."
Stick it out the Cavaliers did, enabling them to leave Kenan Stadium atop the ACC's Coastal Division standings with a 2-0 record, heading into a Saturday meeting with Georgia Tech.
That game suddenly looks interesting, after a win that gave a whole new outlook to a team that began the season with an embarrassing 23-3 loss at Wyoming.
"Our team is getting better," coach Al Groh said. "It's gaining more confidence. We've got bigger challenges coming up in front of us, but this ought to give us a little bit of a boost for those."
A handful of timely plays gave Virginia just enough of a boost Saturday. One of the biggest came with 1:57 left, when 6-foot-2, 280-pound nose tackle Nate Collins leaped and deflected a T.J. Yates pass on a two-point conversion attempt.
Yates and his big, fast receivers had slant-routed Virginia up and down the field on the way to 339 passing yards. A redshirt freshman, Yates either threw before Virginia was able to get to him, or rolled out of the pocket and fired strikes on the run.
"We knew he didn't like to get hit," Collins said. "So we just tried to push back hard and get our hands up."
Long said he didn't see Collins deflect Yates' final pass. He heard it, though.
"Such a great sound," he said.
By then, Long might not have been sure which of his senses he could trust. Like everyone else on the Virginia sideline, he thought he saw a 48-yard field goal attempt by Chris Gould drop over the crossbar early in the second half. Officials signaled that the kick was no good, however.
Long figured his eyes must have deceived him. Gould said the kick didn't feel short, though, and after a pair of team managers who had been behind the goal post to retrieve the ball ran back to the sideline yelling "It was good! It was good!" he went and found Groh.
The coach challenged the play. Several minutes later, the kick was ruled good.
It was 1 of 5 Gould field goals, tying a school record. Most were set up by the hard running of tailback Cedric Peerman, who rushed for 186 yards behind a dominating offensive line.
It looked as if settling for so many field goals was going to ultimately be Virginia's undoing.
"We left a lot of points on the field," Groh said. "You've got to finish those drives, particularly on the road."
On most days, yes. On Saturday, though, the usual formulas didn't apply.
Ed Miller, (757) 446-2372, email@example.com
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