Mikell Simpson crossed the goal line to give Virginia the winning score.
Whoever wrote the lyrics “one is the loneliest number” didn’t know the 2007 Virginia football team.
The Hoos’ perfectly comfortable and cozy relationship with the number one continued on Saturday in Scott Stadium as they won their third game in four weeks by one solitary point. This time, it was defending ACC Champion Wake Forest that fell prey to the Cardiac Cavs, who prevailed 17-16 with a touchdown in the final three minutes.
“Like I said, a W is a W and an L is an L,” UVa linebacker Clint Sintim said. “We can win all the games by a half a point if it was possible – if we get that W, that’s all that matters to me.”
If you’ve been watching this team all season long, you wouldn’t expect it to happen any other way. Virginia has now set an NCAA record with five games won by two points or less in a single season. Overall, 6 of UVa’s 8 wins have come by 5 points or less.
Cavalier coach Al Groh said he’s “happy to win” games regardless of how close the scores have been. He’s just proud of how his team plays each and every game out until the final whistle.
“We’ve very respectful of what Wake Forest has done over the last two years and very respectful of them as the [conference] champion. They played like a champion today, and hopefully we showed a few traits of a similar nature,” Groh said. “It really was one of those heavyweight-type of games. One of our directives coming into the game was that you’ve got to be ready to play a 60-minute game, not 59:30 and, in this particular case, not 59:58 because these two teams over the last two years have had more last-minute finishes than any two other teams in the conference. We showed a great deal of resiliency and mental toughness throughout the course of the game.”
As Groh referenced, Virginia literally needed all 60 minutes to pull out the win against Wake.
Trailing 16-10 with less than 10 minutes to play, time was running short for the home team. But as UVa has done throughout the year, it came up with a winning sequence of plays when it needed them most. First, Chris Gould ‘s high pooch punt pinned Wake Forest at the 6-yard line with 8:32 remaining. Next, the defense held a conservative Deacons’ offense to minimal gains on three straight running plays.
Virginia’s Vic Hall fielded the punt and the offense started what would become the game-winning drive at its own 44-yard line with 6:15 remaining. On the 56-yard scoring march, quarterback Jameel Sewell scrambled for 10 yards, ran for 11, and hit Mikell Simpson for 14 on a screen pass. He also connected with Maurice Covington , who rang up his first career touchdown in the first half, on a crucial 4th-and-2 pass to keep the chains moving.
“I definitely knew it was coming to me,” Covington said. “The play was designed to come to me so I just got to my area, secured the ball, made sure I had it, and then got down.”
Simpson finally capped it all off with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:18 to play in the game. He said the final play was a mirror image call of the game-winning TD at Maryland.
“It was a power run from one yard out, Ian [Yates Cunningham] came around and got a great pulling block,” Simpson said. “I just waited for the hole to open up and cut back. From there I knew all I had to do was follow him into the end zone.”
Jeffrey Fitzgerald broke up a pass on Wake’s last drive – he finished with 11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and 1 pass break-up.
After taking the 17-16 lead, the rest was up the defense … and maybe just a little luck. The Cavaliers nearly ended the game three times in the final 2 minutes. They sacked WFU quarterback Riley Skinner twice (Clint Sintim and Chris Long ), even though he had been sacked just 29 times in the previous 22 games. The Cavs deflected a pass into the air that was nearly intercepted (Jeffrey Fitzgerald ) as well. But each time the situation looked dire, Skinner and the Deacons came through – they even converted two fourth downs, including a 12-yard catch by fullback De’Angelo Bryant that moved the visitors into field goal range at the UVa 33-yard line.
A couple of set-up runs later, Wake’s Sam Swank lined up for a game-winning try with just 2 seconds remaining. His kick had the distance, but sailed wide right – the fans on the hill reacted with the ball still in the air and the full 60,106 in attendance soon joined the reaction. In the end, Swank, who had missed just one field goal all season long (a 57-yard attempt against Navy), misfired on two kicks in a narrow defeat – the other miss clanged off the left upright in the first half.
“Missing the last field goal was a very small part of the game,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “We had opportunities in the first half and the second half that we didn’t take advantage of both offensively and defensively. It’s really a team loss. When you get down to the last play of the game to win or lose, you’d like to win your share, but honestly, it isn’t always going to go your way.”
Note: Long’s sack in the fourth quarter was his 12th of the season. He now needs three more sacks to tie the school’s single season record, which is shared by Chris Slade and Patrick Kerney. Long finished with 10 tackles, which tied Sintim for second-high on the team. Fitzgerald led the way with 11.
Wake Forest tackle Louis Frazier complimented Long and his style of play after the game.
“He’s a great player. It’s a challenge to go against him. It’s personally a challenge for me to go against him because we have two different futures. He has a future in the NFL, and I have a future in medicine,” Frazier said. “He was everything that I heard, and the thing that I really like about him is that he didn’t trash talk about getting the job done.”
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