U lose: Cavs hold on for 24-20 upset of #22 Miami

It’s hard to get a handle on a game that saw the team that scored 19 unanswered points in the final 10:34 still lose. A five-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run by Keith Payne after UVa.’s fifth interception of the day gave the ‘Hoos a 24-0 lead, and turned out to be the decisive score in what turned out to be a 24-19 Virginia win over #22 Miami.

“I have to talk about this team being resilient regardless of what people say. In that locker room right there is a group of proud football players and coaches,” said coach Mike London, who recorded his first ACC win and his first win over a ranked team in his first season at the helm of the UVa. program.

The Cavs (4-4, 1-3 ACC) led 14-0 at the half on a 16-yard pass from Marc Verica to Colter Phillips on a fourth-and-three play and a 30-yard cutback run by Payne on a third-and-three late in the first half. Robert Randolph connected on a 32-yard field goal midway through the third to extend the lead to 17-0, and the Payne run, following the second interception of the day by Corey Mosley, sending to the exits some of the Miami faithful who had come out expecting their ‘Canes, 15-point favorites coming in, to roll to an easy victory.

Fourth-string quarterback Stephen Morris, pressed into action after starter Jacory Harris went down to injury on a second-quarter hit by UVa. defensive lineman John-Kevin Dolce and backup Spencer Whipple was benched after throwing a pair of second-quarter interceptions, got the comeback going with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson that made it 24-6 UVa. with 10:34 to go.

Morris scored on a nine-yard scramble with 4:54 to go to make it 24-12. The Hurricanes recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Morris on the next play connected with wideout Travis Benjamin on a 60-yard scoring pass that made it 24-19 with 4:39 left.

All the sudden, what had seemed to be a blowout was a one-play game. But London reassured his team on the sidelines that the game was still in Virginia’s hands, telling them they only needed to get a couple of first downs, and the ‘Hoo offense did just that, getting a pair of third-down conversions on passes by Verica en route to running out the clock.

“It’s the most dramatic win since I’ve been here,” said Verica, a fifth-year senior, who completed 19 of his 27 pass attempts for 178 yards. “I can’t tell you how excited we are right now. We laid it all on the line today. I could not be happier for Coach London. He’s a guy who sticks with us and supports us no matter what. It’s a special win.”

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Payne gained 81 yards on 17 carries in his first career start. Perry Jones ran 22 times for 69 yards. Virginia ran for 185 yards and didn’t allow a sack to Miami, which had entered the game ranked second in the nation in sacks.

The loss is devastating for Miami (5-3, 3-2 ACC), which had entered Randy Shannon’s fourth season talking about contending for the ACC title. The ‘Canes now sit two games back in the loss column to Virginia Tech as the calendar nears November.

“Alter the goals? No. We still just have to win the games – win each game one-by-one and just keep going from there,” Shannon answered a reporter’s question after the game.

The Virginia side afterward was a far different place. A bowl bid is still not out of the realm of possibility for the Cavs, who celebrated the win over Miami with fans who were invited to stream onto the field by several players.

London was out there with his guys, as he was two weeks ago after a humiliating 44-10 home loss to North Carolina.

“After we got beat by North Carolina, I wanted them to feel what that feels like. It’s the same thing with students and people standing around. I want them to feel what that feels like,” London said. “I don’t know how many other opportunities we are going to have to feel that before the season ends, but you have to start somewhere and you have to start a mindset of ‘this is what’s going to happen around here for a long time.’ Being out there and sharing the moment with them and the students was a signature moment for them. Then we came back into the locker room and celebrated again. They’re probably in there celebrating right now. When we finish I’m going to go back in there and celebrate with them.”

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at freepress2@ntelos.net.


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