Chris Gould hit a 34-yard field goal to win the game.
Survived. Escaped. Squeaked, eked, and tiptoed to victory by the hair of a chinny chin chin.
Call it what you want, but the Virginia football team won its fifth straight game Saturday when it slipped past Middle Tennessee State, 23-21. Chris Gould delivered the game-winning points when his 34-yard field goal split the uprights with eight seconds remaining. The victory represents UVa’s first non-conference road win since defeating Syracuse in 2005 and the program’s first back-to-back road wins since 2004.
“I said a few weeks ago that we’re not pretty, we’re not bob and weave, we go into the middle of the ring and we slug it out,” Virginia coach Al Groh said on the Virginia Sports Network radio broadcast. “We knew coming over here to win on the road, you’ve got to be ready to go 60 minutes and fight and scratch and win it at the end and that’s exactly what we did. So we’re very pleased with it. The players never cracked, never wavered in their determination that we could win.”
“We never go into a game thinking ‘What if we lose?’ We go in wanting to win and preparing to win,” Andrew Pearman said. “That’s what we did tonight.”
It took a final waiting-to-exhale drive for the Cavaliers to come home victorious. Trailing 21-20 with less than two minutes to play, Virginia used 8 plays to gain 63 yards in 1:18 and set up Gould’s game-winning kick. Pearman, Tom Santi , Dontrelle Inman , Josh Zidenberg , and Jonathan Stupar all caught passes on the game-winning drive. The final catch came from Stupar in the middle of the field, which placed the ball inside the MTSU 20.
From there, it was up to Gould – who missed an earlier PAT after a penalty negated the initial kick – to wait out an icing attempt from Middle and convert. He did with a perfect shot that was never in doubt from the time the ball left his foot.
“Chris has had a great season for us. … I’m very confident with Chris. We practice that again every Friday, a last-play field goal,” Groh said.
Did Groh have any words for Gould prior to the kick?
“He didn’t need any coaching, he knew what to do,” Groh said. “There’s a lot of things I don’t know much about, but kickers are on top of the list. So we just let him take care of business.”
Andrew Pearman registered 2 TDs in the Hoos’ win.
The late-game drama followed a back-and-forth slugfest where neither team could take control of the scoreboard. Virginia scored first in the second half to take the 20-14 lead, but Middle claimed the 21-20 advantage midway through the fourth quarter to make things dicey for the visiting Hoos.
The Blue Raiders’ Bradley Robinson intercepted Jameel Sewell and returned the ball to the UVa 1-yard line to set up the hosts’ go-ahead score. Running back DeMarco McNair plunged into the end zone to make sure MTSU capitalized on the turnover. It looked like it might be enough to pull off the upset before the Cavaliers rallied in the final minute to survive.
Survival required several players to rise to the occasion when Cedric Peerman exited the game in the second quarter with an injury (Groh did not elaborate on it following the game until further evaluations can be done). Subbing in Peerman’s place, Keith Payne and Pearman filled the void well enough. That duo combined for 115 yards rushing and Pearman scored two touchdowns, including a high-flying leap into the end zone on one play.
“I was feeling it today I guess,” Pearman said. “I talked about it – we practiced really hard and it just worked out today.”
Other contributors on the day included the tight ends, who caught 11 passes. Santi had 5 catches for 82 yards. Stupar had 27 yards on 3 receptions. John Phillips had 3catches, including a 20-yard touchdown grab. Sewell completed 11 passes to other players as well, finishing 22 of 37 for 223 yards.
Defensively, Jermaine Dias and Jon Copper each posted 9 tackles, while Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald each added another sack to their season totals. Chris Cook left the game with an injury on a play where he landed awkwardly following a pass break-up on a wide receiver reverse and pass. No information was available on his injury after the game.
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