College Football: Virginia storms back in final moments, stuns UNC, 16-13
Story by Chris Graham
Al Groh’s ‘Hoos won five times in 2007 by one or two points. None was as dramatic as Saturday night.
“I’m happy for them that they got a chance to celebrate the way they did,” Groh said after his team’s improbable 16-13 win over 18th-ranked North Carolina that Virginia did not lead until the final play of the game.
Trailing 7-0 at the half after posting only three first downs and 59 yards on offense through two quarters, UVa. was down 10-3 with 2:22 to go in the game after a 40-yard Casey Barth field goal capped a backbreaking 15-play, 69-yard UNC drive that ate up 7:49 off the fourth-quarter clock and left Cavs’ quarterback Marc Verica with one timeout and a lot of real estate to force overtime.
Verica, who has risen from fourth on the depth chart last fall to the starting position this fall and had posted wins in first two home starts, a 31-0 win over Maryland on Oct.3 and a 35-20 win over East Carolina on Oct. 10, had never been in this position before, but he seemed nonetheless to know what to do. “That’s what every quarterback ever dreams about. To be given that opportunity, to be able to drive 80 yards in two minutes with your team behind was an opportunity I always dreamed about as a kid,” said Verica, who completed seven of his eight pass attempts for 80 yards on the drive before handing the ball off to Cedric Peerman, who scored from the 2 with 47 seconds left to tie the game at 10 and send it to overtime.
Barth connected on a 29-yard field goal on the opening possession of the extra period to give the Heels a 13-10 lead, and then Verica struck again, hooking up with tight end John Phillips for 18 yards on second-and-eight to give Virginia a first-and-goal inside the UNC 5. Peerman scored from two yards out on second-and-goal to clinch it.
“This is the best game I have ever been a part of here,” said Peerman, who was held in check for the first 59 minutes before finishing with 44 yards on 17 carries and the two TDs. “For the defense to be tough like that the whole game was really incredible. They dug in and held Carolina’s offense in check and did what they quite often do – put us in a position to win,” Peerman said.
The win completes a 3-0 homestand for Virginia that came after that so-long-ago-now 1-3 start that was marked by a demoralizing 31-3 loss at Duke on Sept. 27. Now the Cavs are 2-1 in the ACC Coastal and are in a position to contend for the division title with a game coming up against Coastal frontrunner Georgia Tech in Atlanta next Saturday.
And just as importantly, the ‘Hoos seem to found their identity as a team, much like last year’s team did in the midst of a seven-game winning streak that began after another demoralizing loss at Wyoming in the 2007 season opener.
“A lot of things we think are important showed up today. One is the next man up,” Groh said of the team motto. “We took two hits right in the first series with a couple of our best players, Antonio Appleby and Ras-I Dowling, going out. For Darren Childs, Mike Parker and Chase Minnifield to step up the way they did against a quality program was just awesome. We’re proud of those guys for being true to the character of the team.
“Every team throughout the course of the year has go to find its identity. We clearly think over the last three weeks we’re starting to find our identity, which is a tough-minded, stick together, purposeful team with a lot of resolve. There’s a lot of trust and unity on the team,” Groh said.