UVA FOOTBALL: Cavs can't rally in Raleigh
Wolfpack snap Virginia's 7-game winning streak
By Jay Jenkins / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
October 28, 2007
RALEIGH, N.C. - With only 7 minutes and 37 seconds and a touchdown separating Virginia from another miracle on grass, a common practice broke out among Virginia’s players.
In unison, they jumped up and down, chanting an ever-popular saying.
“Everybody on the sidelines was shouting, ‘We have been here before! They haven’t been here before!’” Virginia tailback Mikell Simpson said.
Apparently, that magical practice lost its luster.
Virginia failed to score on its final three drives, registering just one first down in the process, and watched helplessly as North Carolina State ruined a perfect season in league play with a 29-24 victory at a sold-out Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Cavaliers, who entered ranked No. 21, dropped to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the ACC. Virginia is now just a half-game ahead of Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1 ACC) for first place in the Coastal Division.
The win gave the Wolfpack (3-5, 1-3 ACC) and new coach Tom O’Brien, a former assistant at Virginia, their first victory in league play in over a year.
“If there is any finger pointing in [our locker room] - and there ought to be a lot - there ought to be 71 guys and it ought to be each one pointing our finger at ourselves saying, ‘If I had done better, maybe the result would have been different,’” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “That particular facet, whether we have been unified in other ways in winning, that ought to unify us because if every individual in every phase of the team had done a little bit better, maybe it would have made a difference.”
Remarkably, after turning the ball over twice, failing to tackle properly on special teams and allowing a season-high in points, Virginia did have a chance to win.
Those chances took a serious hit, however, with 7:09 left when Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell went to ground with severe cramping in his right leg.
Sewell, who had passed for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns and had been a key component of previous come-from-behind wins, was forced to watch the remainder of the game from the sidelines.
“He cramped up seriously, not just in one spot but pretty much every place,” Groh said. “Usually when the tank runs down that low, quick-fix methods that the medical people try to take, it’s pretty hard to get him to fill back up.
“Usually [it takes] a good night’s sleep and quite a bit of liquids and then they feel better the next day. Given the extent of what the cramps were, we were pretty certain that he wouldn’t be back.”
Sewell added: “It was as frustrated as I have ever been.”
True freshman Peter Lalich, partly because of N.C. State’s pressure, struggled mightily - the rookie completed just 2 of 8 passes for 15 yards, had a fumble that he recovered and was sacked three times.
Opinions differed afterwards on what impact a healthy Sewell would have made for the final few drives.
“I guess it was definitely a difference because we are kind of used to Jameel in there,” Virginia wideout Maurice Covington said, “but I don’t know, we could have executed better, but we didn’t.”
North Carolina State did execute, especially early in the game. In fact, after Sewell threw an interception on Virginia’s third play of the game, the Wolfpack took a quick lead with what turned into a recurring pattern: Daniel Evans passing to wide receiver Donald Bowens.
Evans, who finished with 347 yards passing and three touchdowns, connected with Bowens on a 40-yard floater after the wideout had burned red shirt freshman cornerback Mike Parker.
“Right there it was as if when the contract for the game was written, it was written with them having a seven-point advantage,” Groh said. “Ultimately, those seven points were the deciding points.”
Virginia managed its first score with 6:43 left in the first quarter on a 23-yard field goal from Chris Gould, but N.C. State countered with two field goals from Steven Hauschka from 30 and 42 yards out to push its lead to 13-3.
The Cavaliers, after dominating time of possession in the first quarter, scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 3:04 of the first half.
The first touchdown - a 13-yard shovel pass from Sewell to Simpson - capped a 6-play, 61-yard drive that took only 2:18 off the clock.
“Every time I lined up behind the tackle they were yelling, ‘Swing! Swing! Swing!” Simpson recounted. “So I lined up in that same position and I took one step towards them and the defense flowed that way and I came back under. It was just open.”
Unfortunately for Virginia, N.C. State had a touchdown of its own between Virginia’s two scores, allowing the Wolfpack to lead by three at halftime, 20-17.
A similar path was followed by Virginia in the third quarter: it failed to score. But N.C. State struggled as well, scoring its lone points in the quarter on a 23-yard field goal from Hauschka with 11:08 left in the quarter.
Virginia finally took its first - and only - lead of the game with 13:12 left in the contest as Simpson found the end zone for the second time a play after Sewell converted a 4th-and-1 with a designed keeper to his left.
Simpson, who earned his first start, took a handoff from Sewell and scooted five yards to the end zone as he spun past a defender. The play was reviewed, but the call stood.
“I wasn’t worried,” Simpson said. “When I spun out of it, the way that I fell, I saw the end zone and I was like two or three yards into the end zone so it really wasn’t a question mark for me.”
Perhaps the biggest blow for UVa’s newfound momentum occurred seconds later - after Gould’s short kickoff was fumbled.
The Cavaliers enjoyed their lead for less than 6 minutes - N.C. State regained the lead for good as Evans found Bowens for a 30-yard touchdown. Bowens finished with 202 yards on 11 catches against Virginia’s secondary.
“[Bowens] had a couple of those plays last week,” Groh said. “We were well aware of the fact and rehearsed as best we could without having him on our team. We were well aware of the fact that the vertical routes were pretty much throw it up there and let-him-jump-for-the-ball plays.
“It’s like an alley-oop in basketball.”
In the end, Bowens and Evans proved to be too much for Virginia on a night when pefect execution was rare.
“It was all of us,” Groh said. “We could have coached better. We could have played special teams better. We could have played offense better. We could have played defense better. But we didn’t and N.C. State did well enough and we give them credit for doing that.”
Despite the loss, Virginia’s players know they need only to win their final three games to clinch a spot in the ACC championship game.
“Right now we are just thinking about what happened, but it is time to move on,” Virginia center Jordy Lipsey said. “By Monday it will be time to stop thinking about N.C. State and time to start thinking about Wake Forest. It will be time to go out and get a win.
“I don’t think anybody said it yet, but if we win out we go to the ACC Championship game. Our goals are still right in front of us.”