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All Virginia has to do to win the Coastal Division: #BeatTech

uva footballThe Coastal Division title is so close, you can see it, almost taste it. And at the same time, it seems still hopelessly out of reach.

Virginia only needs to win a game at Scott Stadium, where the ‘Hoos haven’t lost all season, to win the Coastal for the first time.

The problem being: Virginia Tech.

This isn’t the first time the season finale with the rival has had those stakes. Think way back to 2011, when an 8-3 UVA team welcomed a 10-1 Virginia Tech team to Scott Stadium.

Both teams were ranked, as we can expect will be the case this year, as of when the new rankings come out on Monday.

At that point, the Tech winning streak in the series was at an already unbearable seven games, but the atmosphere in Charlottesville was electric.

Mike London had things turning around in his second season.

This was going to be the night Virginia football made a statement.

You could just feel it.

A statement was indeed made that night.

Virginia Tech led 14-0 at halftime and ran and hid thereafter, piling on a 38-0 victory that felt more like a thousand to nothing to the Virginia faithful.

The winning streak was at eight, and it’s now at, what, 15?

Is it really 15 now?

Holy guacamole.

Al Groh was in his third year when he notched that last UVA win, way back in 2003, before there was even such a thing as Facebook, much less there being a YouTube or Twitter, or Instagram or TikTok.

It’s so long ago that Bronco Mendenhall, now in his fourth season as the head coach at Virginia, after an 11-year run at BYU, where his teams compiled a 99-43 record, hadn’t yet been hired for that job, which he took on beginning in 2005.

It’s now on Mendenhall to get Virginia football turned around, after the Groh flameout, after the London debacle, which left the cupboard so bare that Mendenhall’s first UVA team, in 2016, was blown out at home by FCS Richmond on its way to a 2-10 finish.

Like that London team in 2011, his team enters the 2019 Tech game with an 8-3 record, and a shot at a Coastal title.

He maybe has a greater appreciation than anybody alive – nodding up there at you, Coach Welsh – of the hard work it took to get here.

“I’m really thankful for the work the staff and the players have put in,” Mendenhall said after Virginia’s 55-27 win over Liberty on Saturday.

“It’s gratifying to have our eighth win in back-to-back seasons. A year ago, it took us through our bowl game to get our eighth win, and here we have it in the regular season with still one game to go. With one game remaining in the regular season, the Coastal championship will be on the line, and I think that reflects growth and progress within the program, and I think it reflects steady and unbroken growth within the progress in four years to this point.”

Mendenhall’s second team, in 2017, got to six wins with a 40-36 victory over Georgia Tech that lifted the ‘Hoos to a 6-3 mark, but that team would run out of steam, losing its last four, including a 49-7 beatdown from Navy in the Military Bowl.

The Cavaliers in 2018 were 7-3 after a 45-24 win over Liberty in mid-November, before suffering backbreaking OT losses at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, ahead of a thorough smackdown of South Carolina in the Belk Bowl that helped launch expectations for the program heading into 2019.

The ‘Hoos were pegged at the ACC Kickoff in July as the favorites in the Coastal Division for the first time in program history, and despite a mid-season slump that saw them lose three of four, they enter the final game of the regular season needing only to protect their home field to see that destiny fulfilled.

Easier said than done, of course, with the opposite sideline being filled with players and coaches who treat a win over UVA in November as part of their inheritance.

“It’s a delicate balance, because the reality is that the University of Virginia has not had much success in that game,” Mendenhall said Saturday. “Managing that could certainly be a contributing factor. However, we’re talking now about an opponent that has qualified for [27] straight bowl games and has made a commitment to football that has lasted for a long time. We are making that commitment and resurgent.”

That’s a fair way to cast it – Virginia Tech as the blue blood, Virginia as the upstart.

The Hokies, for a long stretch, were flirting with being college football big boys, and with six wins in their last seven games, and a dominant defense that hasn’t given up a point in its last nine quarters, they’re playing like that again, at least in the here and now.

Virginia has won three straight since its mid-season swoon, but the defense is being held together by spit and tape, and the offense feels way, way too reliant on quarterback Bryce Perkins.

Both teams are 8-3, both have the same shot in terms that they each control their own destiny, but it still feels like Virginia is David, and Virginia Tech Goliath.

“The reality is that we have the Coastal Division championship and basically the state championship and a lot to play for,” Mendenhall said. “Now that we’ve said all that, it becomes interference. It’s playing the game, preparing for the schemes, strategies and matchups and anything that allows us to drift outside of that really works counter to our preparations.”

Which is to say, the hard work, the rocks busted, the mountain climbed, to get a glimpse of the promised land, more of that will need to be done, to have that will be done.

“It really is all about the game within the lines, not anything else. My message every single day is coming right back to the execution,” Mendenhall said.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press