Augusta Free Press

Flipping the script: UVA football winning games it used to lose

UVA’s 20-14 win at North Carolina on Saturday played out a lot like another recent ‘Hoos-Heels game.

It had me thinking back to the 2014 game in Charlottesville, and I’ll begin my recap of that one with Virginia leading UNC 27-21 in the fourth.

The Cavs took over at their own 26 with 11:18 to go, wanting to get a couple of first downs to eat some clock. As it turns out, Virginia moved the chains three times, including on two third downs, and had the ball inside the Carolina 35.

On a second-and-13 play, quarterback Grayson Lambert dropped back to throw a screen pass, which Nazir Jones intercepted and ran back to the Virginia 38.

With 6:09 to go, the Tar Heels were in business, and took the lead two minutes later when Mitch Trubisky (yes, that Mitch Trubisky) came off the bench (somehow, Larry Fedora had him holding a clipboard behind Marquise Williams) to throw a 16-yard TD pass to T.J. Thorpe (yes, that T.J. Thorpe, who would be a grad transfer at Virginia a year later) to give UNC a 28-27 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Fedora called for an onside kick, which North Carolina recovered, and promptly ran the clock out from there.

That was Oct. 25, 2014. Three years later, Virginia had a 20-14 lead on UNC in the fourth quarter, and got the ball back with 11:32 to go, hoping to get a couple of first downs to eat some clock.

The drive worked out much the same way the one three years ago did. UVA drove the ball to the Carolina 20 before an illegal block penalty got the Cavs behind the chains, and then on a third-and-17 play, quarterback Kurt Benkert fumbled, and UNC recovered at its own 40 with 2:56 to go.

The Heels got two first downs on the possession, getting to the UVA 37. Brandon Harris overshot an open receiver in the end zone on second down, threw an incomplete pass on third down, then Fedora called timeout to get his unit’s bearings straight on fourth down.

Harris never had a chance. UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall, who is also the team’s defensive coordinator, dialed up a blitz, and Chris Peace sacked Harris at midfield.

Ballgame.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about how a winning UVA team wouldn’t have won a similar game a couple of years ago.

The compare and contrast of UVA-UNC in 2014 and UVA-UNC in 2017 tell the tale as well as I can try.

The Cavs led in 2014 14-0 early before letting Carolina back into that one. Virginia led today 10-0 before the Heels scored on their first two possessions of the third quarter, as the UVA offense sputtered to a pair of three-and-outs on its first two tries.

The ‘Hoos stole momentum back with an 81-yard catch-and-run by Olamide Zaccheaus late in the third, tacked on a field goal a minute into the fourth, then held on for dear life.

Virginia teams lost a load of these type games in 2014 and 2015 with teams that seemed a play or two away from being a team capable of winning seven or eight games, and instead got its coach fired because the Cavs couldn’t finish games.

For the second straight week, Virginia finished off a gritty win.

Column by Chris Graham