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Better to be lucky than good: Facemask penalty keeps game-tying drive alive for UVA

uva-logo-new2Third-and-15 from the UVA 9. Cavs down three inside of six minutes to go. The offense is in this position because of another dumb penalty, a delay of game after a first-down pass from Matt Johns to Canaan Severin.

Johns took the shotgun snap and surveyed the field, and not seeing anything promising downfield decided to dump the ball off to tailback Albert Reid just past the line of scrimmage.

Syracuse defensive end Ron Thompson was trailing Reid in coverage, and tackled Reid after a six-yard gain that would have made it fourth-and-long, forced a Virginia punt, and given the Orange a chance to get a couple of first downs that could run out the clock.

But before you could yell “what are you thinking?” at the TV screen at the decision by Johns to throw a dump-off on third-and-forever, a penalty flag appeared just behind the spot where Reid went down.

Thompson, for whatever reason, had reached back to grab Reid’s facemask as he was securing the tackle.

Fifteen-yard penalty. Automatic first down.

Virginia goes on to convert another third-and-long, one fourth-and-short, kicks a field goal at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime, and wins on a touchdown in the third extra period.

If not for the facemask penalty on third-and-long at the 9, none of the rest of that happens.

“I remember looking up and saying, Thank you big guy. I appreciate that,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “Sometimes things like that happen for you to sustain drives and sometimes you’re on the other end. It was a play that kind of provided an impetus for the guys to say, Let’s go. We have an opportunity here.”

To the Cavs’ credit, they did something with the break that went their way, undeserved or not.

But to the part about it being undeserved: what was Johns thinking dumping the ball off to ostensibly set up a punt from deep in his own territory?

“They dropped eight, and I really didn’t want to force anything, so I dumped it down to Albert,” Johns said.

“Sometimes things like that (penalty) happen. That’s why you do things like that. If I throw it up incomplete, then we are looking at fourth-and-15, and everyone is still booing. It’s part of football, and we got the call to go our way.”

– Story by Chris Graham