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Cavs blow lead, shot at ACC title

By Jay Jenkins  / jjenkins@dailyprogress.com | 978-7250
November 25, 2007

With grass stains covering his white pants, Tom Santi turned and looked at the massive scoreboard inside Scott Stadium for the last time in uniform.

Disbelieving the final numbers, which read “Virginia Tech 33, Virginia 21,” tears freely flowed from the eyes of Virginia’s senior tight end.

Once again, the Cavaliers came up short in their quest to beat their in-state rival and reclaim the Commonwealth Cup.

This time, however, it was far more costly - Virginia (9-3, 6-2 ACC) missed a chance to win its first-ever Coastal Division title and the opportunity to play in the ACC championship game.

Instead, Virginia Tech (10-2, 7-1 ACC) claimed the crown, drawing a rematch with Atlantic Division champ Boston College. The eighth-ranked Hokies and the Eagles (10-2, 6-2 ACC) meet Saturday at 1 p.m. in Jacksonville, Fla.

The loss left Virginia’s senior class, with the exception of Ian-Yates Cunningham and Gordie Sammis, winless against the Hokies.

“It’s hard, especially for all the seniors,” said Virginia sophomore defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald. “I just wanted to go out there and win because it was a big game, but most definitely for the seniors.

“It was their last time against Tech and their last time in Scott Stadium. I just feel sorry they had to go out that way.”

Virginia certainly had its chances on offense and defense.

The Cavaliers, in fact, took a 14-13 lead in the second quarter after quarterback Jameel Sewell bulled into the end zone for an 8-yard TD run with 6:35 left.

It marked Virginia’s first lead over the Hokies since 2004, but the advantage was erased as the first half neared completion.

With 40 seconds left and the ball at the Virginia Tech 41, which was nearing field-goal range, Sewell threw a pass intended for Maurice Covington that hit Hokie cornerback Brandon Flowers in stride.

“It looked like [Flowers] sat on it pretty good,” said Virginia coach Al Groh. “[Covington] probably could have come back on the ball a little more aggressively, created a little bit more space.”

Three plays and 28 seconds later, Virginia Tech took the lead for good, at 20-13, when quarterback Sean Glennon connected with Eddie Royal, who beat safeties Jamaal Jackson and Byron Glaspy for a 39-yard touchdown.

“We had the ball, hoping to get it into the point where we had the chance for at least three points before the end of the half, and the next thing we know we are sending in the extra-point block [team],” Groh said. “That turnaround right there, obviously, was a dramatic one in terms of how the overall game played out.”

After allowing a 29-yard field goal by Virginia Tech’s Jud Dunlevy with 7:51 left in the third quarter, Virginia appeared primed for another comeback, an overriding theme to the season.

Virginia defensive end Chris Long, who had his jersey retired before the game, broke the middle of the Hokies’ offensive line and sacked Glennon, forcing a fumble that was recovered at the Virginia Tech 28 by linebacker Antonio Appleby.

Facing third-and-12 at the Hokie 19, Sewell kept the ensuing drive alive by scrambling right and throwing against the grain for a 17-yard completion to a tight end Jon Stupar. Sewell promptly rushed into the end zone on the next play, trimming the lead to 23-21.

After forcing a quick Virginia Tech punt, Virginia suffered a setback offensively when tailback Mikell Simpson developed cramps after a 5-yard carry on first down.

The sophomore was forced to leave the game and the Cavaliers failed to convert on a third-and-1 when Andrew Pearman lost a yard on a carry up the middle.

Groh did not use Simpson’s absence as an excuse.

“That would just be a copout on our part to say because one player out of 21 wasn’t in the game that it hindered our efforts,” the coach said.

Simpson, who scored Virginia’s first touchdown in the first quarter, took full blame.

“Cramps happen, but I feel I let my team down with a cramp at that time,” Simpson said.

“We had a lot of momentum at that time, and we could have driven the ball down and taken the lead.”

Virginia failed to mount a rally in the fourth quarter as it gained only 30 yards on its final 13 plays and lost Sewell for five plays after he injured his ribs when Virginia Tech defensive end Chris Ellis tackled the quarterback by the collar.

The Hokies padded their lead in the final frame, scoring on a 5-yard scoring scramble by reserve quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who rushed for 17 yards and two touchdowns, and on a 26-yard field goal from Dunlevy, his fourth of the game.

Thanks in part to their woeful fourth quarter, the Cavaliers finished with 241 yards of total offense. Sewell, who finished 15 of 24, passed for just 121 yards.

Virginia Tech, behind a season-best 147 yards rushing from tailback Branden Ore and 260 yards passing from Glennon, accumulated 430 yards of total offense and all six trips into the red zone led to points.

“It was just about three or four plays where we came up short in terms of making the play,” Groh said, “but that’s the way most games are usually determined.”

One of the forgettable plays came in the third quarter when Virginia punter Ryan Weigand had an attempt blocked and recovered by Davon Morgan. It led to a field goal and gave the Hokies a 23-14 lead.

“The snap was off a little bit to the right, which led him into the rush, [Weigand] kicked it towards the rush and he was unusually slow on it,” Groh said. “No matter how much we practiced it, clearly we didn’t practice it enough.”

Known for their prowess on special teams, Virginia Tech confused Virginia on the play.

“We should have called a straight-ahead kick and not an angled kick,” Weigand said. “We kicked into an overloaded side and my world got rocked, basically.

“The first thing Coach says is, ‘You are operating too slow,’ and I told him I had a helmet in my knee so even if I operated faster … I didn’t even think they got a hand on it. I think I hit his entire body with the punt.”

While the Hokies know their next opponent, Virginia is forced to wait on its postseason fate, a likely trip to Florida for a bowl game.

“As might be expected, all of us are disappointed in the result,” Groh said. “But I’m proud of our team. I’m very proud of the effort they put into it today. I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished to this particular point.

“The season’s not over yet. I am resolute in the fact that the season is not going to end this particular way. I’m looking forward to playing another game. The only problem with it is that it doesn’t come soon enough.”

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