UVA FOOTBALL: Virginia still livin' on the edge
Late TD, missed kick put UVa back on top
By Jay Jenkins / firstname.lastname@example.org | 978-7250
November 4, 2007
After relying on its own heroics during numerous game-winning moments, Virginia elected to defer to Wake Forest on Saturday.
Virginia’s players, most of whom were on bended knee and begging for a last-second missed field goal, had their prayers answered.
Wake Forest placekicker Sam Swank, an All-American in 2006, pushed a 47-yard field-goal attempt to the right as time expired, giving the Cavaliers an improbable 17-16 win over the 21st-ranked Demon Deacons at Scott Stadium.
The roars from Cavalier fans who had a direct angle on the kick saved many of the players from further agony.
“I was just going to listen,” said Virginia defensive end Chris Long. “I whipped my head around so fast and by the time the kick was coming down I saw it went wide right, and that was just the best feeling in the entire world. That was unbelievable.
“In basketball you want your guy to be taking that open jump shot. You want your field goal kicker that is automatic to be kicking that ball, but everybody makes mistakes.”
With the victory, Virginia (8-2, 5-1 ACC) vaults back into sole possession of first place in the league’s Coastal Division, a race that appears to be down to two teams. UVa and Virginia Tech, which are tied in the loss column, boast a two-game lead over Miami following the Hurricanes’ 19-16 overtime loss Saturday against North Carolina State.
“It’s playoff time and we won today and it’s kinda like what they do during March Madness: Win and move on,” said Virginia coach Al Groh. “We won, we’ve got an opportunity to move on now and stay in this race.”
Virginia also became the first Division I-A team to win five games in a season by two points or fewer, breaking the previous mark set by Columbia in 1971.
Yes, as usual, Virginia elected to make the contest as climactic as possible for the 60,106 in attendance.
In fact, Virginia trailed Wake Forest, 16-10, with 6:15 left in the game before mounting a magical, 10-play, game-winning drive that took a fourth-down conversion.
It also took a near-perfect performance from quarterback Jameel Sewell, who passed for 225 yards in the game and accounted for 53 of the final drive’s 56 yards.
The biggest play came on fourth-and-2 from the Wake 24. Sewell fired a strike to wideout Maurice Covington that moved the ball to the Wake 14.
After scrambling for 11 yards on the ensuing play, Mikell Simpson gained two yards on a direct snap, then followed blocks from right guard Ian-Yates Cunningham and fullback Rashawn Jackson to score a play later with 2:18 left from just a yard out.
“Ian pulled and opened it up and I just cut right off of Ian’s block,” said Simpson, who finished with 35 yards rushing on 16 carries. “When I was running toward the end zone, it was cluttered and I didn’t think I was going to be able to get out there - I was going to have to do something like Maryland.
“It just opened up when I cut back.”
While Simpson scored, Sewell’s performance on the drive drew the loudest praise.
“He and I both agree that this probably wouldn’t have happened last year,” Groh said. “Everybody has toughened up around here mentally, and I think he’s done the same. That enabled him to overcome some plays that weren’t too pretty and to be there for his team when it really mattered.”
Wake Forest, however, marched into Swank’s range on its ensuing possession as its own signal-caller, Riley Skinner, completed four passes for 47 yards and converted once on fourth down. The last of Skinner’s completions, which went to De’Angelo Bryant, was good for 12 yards and pushed the ball to the UVa 33.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe then elected to run the ball with tailback Josh Adams on the next two plays, which combined for just three yards. After the second carry, Wake let the clock wind down to 2 seconds before calling its final timeout.
“When we completed that pass to De’Angelo, we felt we were in Sam’s range,” Grobe said. “We would have certainly liked to get more from those two runs we had, but from our perspective that was easy length for Sam.
“The thing we didn’t want to do was take a sack or throw a pick to do anything that wouldn’t give Sam a chance to win the game.”
Swank, who also missed a 43-yard attempt in the second quarter, entered the game perfect on 11 attempts inside of 52 yards. His lone miss was a 57-yarder at Navy.
Groh defended Grobe’s decision to run the ball on the final two plays.
“That was the right call given the history this kid had,” Virginia’s coach said of Swank.
The junior, who dodged reporters afterward, had ample opportunity to prep for the game-winning kick.
Wake Forest, which went 8 for 20 on third-down conversions, settled for field-goal attempts on three of its four scoring drives - Swank connected on a 27-yarder on the game’s first possession, nailed a 25-yarder with 10:28 left in the second quarter and added a 31-yarder with 10:12 left in the game.
Virginia was held in check in similar fashion until the final seconds of the first half.
Trailing 6-3, Sewell connected with Covington for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the first half.
Covington, who finished with four receptions for 76 yards, squeezed past two Wake defenders to score his first career touchdown.
“I ran my route to the right and Jameel threw a perfect ball,” Covington said. “I had great blocking from [tight end] John Phillips and I just did what I had to do to get into the end zone.”
Wake’s lone touchdown came with 2:10 left in the third quarter after Skinner rolled right and rifled a pass to wideout Kenneth Moore for a 13-yard score.
The play gave Wake a 16-10 lead, but Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim admitted the quarterback should have had less time to make the throw.
“Towards the third quarter, Coach actually told me to spy [Skinner] and I think there was a situation where I didn’t quite understand what he was saying,” Sintim explained. “Coach said, ‘Spy the quarterback. Spy the quarterback.’ And I am shaking my head like I hear it but I didn’t really hear it, and he ended up stepping outside the pocket and throwing the touchdown pass.”
Sintim, who finished with a career-best 11 tackles, nervously glanced at Groh after the play.
“Immediately I kind of look over to the sidelines,” Sintim said, “and I get this look from Coach and I am like, ‘He probably told me to spy the quarterback.’”
Luckily, the end result allowed Sintim and his teammates the ability to enjoy the blown assignment.
“Say whatever you want, but all that matters at the end of the game is a ‘W’ or a ‘L,’ and as of right now we have eight ‘W’s’ and two L’s,” Sintim said. “However we get ’em is how we get ’em. You can say whatever you want - slice it, dice it, it doesn’t matter to me.
“You play good football and you win games. That’s what we do.”
The loss ruins the chances that Wake Forest (6-3, 4-2 ACC) had of winning the Atlantic Division title and repeating as league champions. The Demon Deacons could have actually gained ground on Boston College, which suffered its first loss of the season Saturday night, falling 27-17 to Florida State.
Wake Forest travels to Clemson on Saturday.
Virginia, which rebounded from its 29-24 loss at N.C. State, controls its own destiny - and will for the remainder of the regular season. The Cavaliers play at Miami on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. followed by a showdown with Virginia Tech on Nov. 24.