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UVa downs Duke with a two-quarterback attack

By Andy Bitter
Lynchburg News & Advance
September 9, 2007

CHARLOTTESVILLE - For the record, it's not a competition. It's a rotation.

Virginia coach Al Groh picks his words very carefully when it comes to his quarterbacks. He intended to use both Jameel Sewell and Peter Lalich in Saturday's 24-13 win over Duke and was true to his word.

But when the game was on the line, when Virginia needed to put together a sustained drive that could eat some clock, put points on the board and give the Cavaliers some breathing room, it was Lalich who led the way.

He didn't look overwhelmed. The true freshman was in charge of Virginia's best drive of the season, a 15-play, 82-yard clock-killer that ate up over six minutes and ended with Lalich finding Tom Santi for his first career touchdown pass.

"It's a big-time drive," said Santi, who had 54 receiving yards and two touchdowns Saturday, double his total of last season. "He orchestrated it. He did well under pressure. He had a lot of poise."

Santi added one more thing, a foreign concept to the Cavaliers' offense of late: "It's exciting."

Lalich went 13-for-18 for 131 yards and a touchdown in his second career appearance, helping Virginia (1-1, 1-0 ACC) salvage an ugly win that featured special teams meltdowns in all facets.

"We kind of won in spite of ourselves," defensive end Chris Long said.

Normally, an 11-point win against a Blue Devils team that has now lost 22 straight wouldn't be anything to get worked up about. Not after the opening week debacle at Wyoming.

"Any step forward is a great step for us," cornerback Vic Hall said. "Next week we've got to take an even bigger step."

Lalich appeared to take a giant leap. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound freshman played the final two drives of the first half when Sewell went to the locker room with cramps, leading UVa to a field goal as time expired to make it 17-2 at halftime.

Sewell made way for Lalich in the second half for a different reason - ineffectiveness. Sewell was in on three drives after the break that totaled 43 yards, two first downs and zero points.

"We were just looking for a different style of play," Groh said.

Lalich supplied it. The majority of Sewell's throws were short. Despite a 9-for-14 afternoon, his longest completion was seven yards. Lalich completed five passes that went for 10 yards or more.

Duke (0-2, 0-1 ACC) pulled within 17-13 in the third quarter, scoring 11 points as a result of a pair of costly UVa special teams miscues - Danny Aiken's botched snap on a punt and Andrew Pearman's fumble on a kickoff return.

That's when Groh went to Lalich for a second time. Lalich didn't buckle. In moving the Cavaliers 82 yards, he completed 8 of 10 for 77 yards, twice converting third downs to keep the drive alive.

"From the first play he stepped in the huddle he was composed," said tailback Cedric Peerman, who ran for a career-high 137 yards. "He never really seemed nervous about anything."

"If he is, he's dealing with it well," Santi said.

Lalich's only oversight was failing to see a wide open Staton Jobe, who lined up with no Duke defender covering him on the goal line. No matter. On the next play, Lalich rolled left and hit Santi for a 4-yard touchdown.

"He's smart and has ? a great savvy about him," said Hall, who has some knowledge of the quarterback position, considering he set the state high school total yardage mark at Gretna High. "He knows the offense and it shows on the field."

Lalich's best throw was one that didn't even lead to points. He correctly read a Duke blitz and hit Santi for a third-down conversion late in the fourth, standing in the pocket and taking a good lick in the process.

"I had trouble with the protection in practice but I got it right in the game," he said.

His performance will inevitably lead to questions about who Virginia's starting quarterback will be at North Carolina next Saturday. Groh said for now it will be Sewell, unless things change in the next week. Regardless, both will play.

A quarterback controversy can fracture a team as quickly as anything. The Cavaliers insist that's not the case here.

"If you've got one guy who's getting slighted, that's going to be disruptive to the team," Santi said. "We don't feel that way. That's not the way it's been presented to us and that's not the way those guys feel about it."

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