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UVa makes the big plays in crucial situations
By Andy Bitter
Lynchburg News & Advance
October 13, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE - Connecticut looked like it had Virginia on the ropes. Down by one with time ticking down in the fourth quarter, Huskies quarterback Tyler Lorenzen stepped out a pair of imminent sacks for back-to-back 11-yard gains, getting the ball into UVa territory. A go-ahead field goal seemed inevitable.
Not this year, when everything seems to be going Virginia's way.
On the next play, UConn center Keith Gray snapped the ball past Lorenzen in the shotgun for a 21-yard loss. Two plays later, he snapped one at Lorenzen's ankles. UVa emerged with the ball from the scrum and escaped with a wild 17-16 win at Scott Stadium.
"We'll take it anyway we can get it," Virginia coach Al Groh said.
Virginia (6-1) has won six straight for the first time since 2002. The Cavaliers, who became bowl eligible, have already eclipsed last year's win total. Four of their six wins have been by five points or fewer.
"We pride ourselves on not cracking and really grinding it out," UVa tailback Andrew Pearman said. "A win is a win, no matter how it comes out. We had more points than them at the end."
It wasn't a victory flush with style points. The Cavaliers committed three turnovers, handing Connecticut 13 points. Quarterback Jameel Sewell didn't throw for 150 yards and nobody ran for more than 66 yards in place of tailback Cedric Peerman, who was on crutches with a foot injury.
But like it has time and time again this year, Virginia came through when it counted. Down 16-14 with just under eight minutes left, the Cavaliers went on a drive reminiscent of last week's game-winner at Middle Tennessee.
"It was pretty much the same scenario," said Sewell, who was 14-for-24 for 149 yards and added 66 on the ground. "We know we had to make a few big plays."
Sewell shook off two first-half interceptions to lead the Cavaliers 79 yards in 11 plays with the game on the line. After having a questionable catch by tight end Jonathan Stupar upheld by replay, he completed a 30-yard pass near the sideline to Chris Gorham, who finished with three catches for a career-high 76 yards.
UVa got all the way to the UConn 1 before things stalled and Chris Gould kicked a go-ahead 19-yard field goal with 3:20 left.
Lorenzen made Virginia sweat it out. In addition to 176 passing yards and a touchdown, the 6-foot-5 junior college transfer regularly eluded UVa's pass rush, making yards out of nothing, most notably on the back-to-back 11-yard scampers after Gould's field goal.
"We knew coming in that he was elusive in the pocket," Groh said. "That's different than being a scrambler. Those are in some ways the more difficult guy to deal with. He probably turned a multi-sack game into one that was very different."
"He is a stud out there," Virginia defensive end Chris Long said.
He couldn't do anything about the bad snaps, though, the second of which defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald recovered at the UConn 25 with 2:15 left to all but put the game away.
"You can't make mistakes when the game is on the line," UVa linebacker Clint Sintim said. "And fortunately for us, they did."
The Cavaliers held the Huskies (6-1) to season lows in points (16), rushing yards (78), total offense (254) and third-down conversions (1-for-13).
UConn had three possessions inside the UVa 10-yard line that resulted in six points. The Huskies kicked field goals in the first and fourth quarters and turned it over on a fumble just before the half.
"If you just understand how to win in unique situations, like we've had the last two weeks, you're well-equipped to do big things at the end of the year," Long said.
Despite the win, UVa's offense still left a lot to be desired. Pearman and Keith Payne were mediocre in place of Peerman. Pearman had 17 carries for 40 yards, a 2.4-yard average. Payne was more effective - he ran 11 times for 42 yards and a touchdown - but wasn't in the game at the most crucial times.
It says something about Virginia's passing game that its biggest play came on an halfback option pass, when cornerback Vic Hall, a record-breaking quarterback at Gretna High, lined up at tailback and completed a 35-yard pass to Gorham in the second quarter.
None of those things worried the Cavaliers afterward, though.
"We're not interested in who we are impressing," Groh said. "We're just interested in winning games."