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Cracked armor: Cavaliers can't find late-game heroics
By Andy Bitter
October 28, 2007
RALEIGH, N.C. - The team that never cracks finally did.
Virginia has made a living of pulling out close games, with five wins by less than a touchdown this year. But the Cavaliers' run of living dangerously finally ended Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium in a 29-24 loss to N.C. State.
"It was right there at the end. We thought we could win it," UVa defensive end Chris Long said. "We've got to stop putting ourselves in those positions."
Virginia (7-2, 4-1 ACC) watched its school-best seven-game winning streak come to an end.
It was N.C. State (3-5, 1-3 ACC) whose players came through in the clutch, no one more than wide receiver Donald Bowens. The sophomore had a career-high 11 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner on a fade pattern over freshman cornerback Ras-I Dowling in the corner of the end zone with 7:37 left to put the Wolfpack up by five.
It didn't discourage the UVa bench.
"Everybody was shouting, 'We've been here before! They haven't been here before!'" tailback Mikell Simp-son said.
Not quite like this. Virginia's comeback was made more difficult by the absence of quarterback Jameel Sewell, who had thrown for a career-high 260 yards and a touchdown before succumbing to cramps with seven minutes left. He didn't return.
"It was as frustrated as I've ever been," Sewell said.
True freshman Peter Lalich, who had taken two snaps in the previous four games, couldn't produce the same come-from-behind magic. He stepped into a third-and-11 situation on his first play and got popped, throwing an incompletion.
He had shots on two more drives but only led the Cavaliers to one first down.
UVa started its final drive on its own 15 with 1:24 left. After a first-down pass to Cary Koch, Lalich got crushed on a nine-yard sack. He threw two more incompletions before the pocket caved in again, with defen-sive end Willie Young getting a fourth-down sack to clinch the Wolfpack's first ACC win under coach Tom O'Brien and snap a conference losing streak of nine games.
"That's a pretty tough spot, but you've got to do what you've got to do to win the game," said Lalich, who was 2-for-8 for 15 yards and was sacked three times.
N.C. State quarterback Daniel Evans out-dueled Sewell in this battle of gunslingers, which resulted in 800 yards of total offense. Evans threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came in the first half when the Wolfpack built a 20-17 lead.
"He did a great job of keeping a mental clock and just getting rid of it," said Long, who had one of UVa's three sacks.
N.C. State's lead became 23-17 early in the third quarter, though it should have been more. Tailback Jamelle Eugene bounced outside on a third-and-one and looked like he would waltz in for a touchdown. But he tripped at the 5-yard line and fell at the 2. The Cavaliers' defense held and the Wolfpack settled for Steven Hauschka's fourth field goal.
Virginia capitalized, taking its first lead at 24-23 with 13:12 left in the fourth. Simpson scored on a 5-yard run after Sewell converted a fourth-and-one by tip-toeing up the left sideline for an 11-yard gain. Simpson, who had 271 yards and two touchdowns at Maryland last week, followed that up with 81 rushing yards, 35 receiving yards and two touchdowns Saturday.
N.C. State's Darrell Blackman fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Virginia recovered. But Dowling was flagged for being offsides, negating a turnover that would have given the Cavaliers possession close to the Wolfpack's 35-yard line.
"Unfortunate," Groh said.
Dowling, a nickel back who was on the field because of injuries to Chris Cook (knee) and Parker (ankle), atoned for that mistake by getting his first career interception on N.C. State's next drive.
The Wolfpack didn't stop going at him, however. After a UVa punt, Evans threw a fade up the right sideline that Owen Spencer hauled in over Dowling for a 30-yard gain. The next play was almost exactly the same. Evans put it in the right spot and Bowens made the catch in the corner of the end zone over a stunned Dowling.
"I think it was good coverage," Dowling said. "He just made a couple of good plays."
It was an unfair ending to a great day by Dowling, who tied a Virginia record with five pass break-ups.
"If there is any finger pointing in there, there out to be a lot," Groh said. "And there ought to be 71 guys and it ought to be each one of us pointing our finger at ourselves and saying, 'If I had done better, maybe the re-sult would have been different.'"
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