Mikell Simpson scored two touchdowns in the game.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five times this season, the Virginia football team escaped with a win of two points or less. Middle Tennessee State, Maryland, Connecticut, and Wake Forest all came down to the final seconds with UVa emerging victorious. In the season’s final game, however, the Cardiac Cavs had their heart broken in that very fashion as Texas Tech scored the game’s final 17 points to win 31-28 on a field goal in the final 10 seconds.
“We had a chance to do something few Virginia teams have ever done and that was to win 10 games. We had our opportunity and I thought frankly we gave the thing away,” Cavalier coach Al Groh said. “It leaves a lot of heartbreak, but at the same time it’s still we, us, and ours. It’s all our loss. We all feel it the same way. Those players leave with us having the greatest of affection and the greatest of respect for what they put in it to make this team what it was. It tugs at your heart for some of them to not get what they so dearly wanted here today and for it to happen the way that it did.”
Among the cold cinderblock walls deep beneath Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Virginia’s players stood, dejected, trying to explain how a season full of gutsy wins ended with a punch to the gut.
“It’s hard to swallow just for the fact that our goal coming in to the game was to get 10 wins and go down as the second team in UVa history with 10 wins,” said Mikell Simpson , who finished with 206 total yards of offense and two touchdowns (including a running back bowl record 96-yard touchdown run). “Just to be on national TV where the world can actually see us, we wanted to prove something today and we didn’t.”
“I felt we played a good game. I just felt that we could have done a better job of finishing it off,” Rashawn Jackson said. “They’re a good team and they made some plays, but I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. I don’t know.”
“That’s kind of been our signature this year, kind of stealing it away at the end and finding a way to win, but we didn’t do that today,” Tom Santi said. “It’s just more disappointing. To be honest, I feel like we gave it away. I feel like we were in great position to have that game won and gave it away.”
Taking the lead 28-14 with 11:20 to play, the Hoos seemed to have the game well in hand when they stopped Texas Tech on fourth-and-goal on its next drive. That left 8:04 on the clock and the ball in Virginia’s possession. Up to that point, the Cavaliers had had a lot of success running the ball, racking up 246 yards on the ground. Over the final 8 minutes when the Hoos needed to run most in order to wind out the clock, however, they gained just 3 more rushing yards.
Peter Lalich fumbles as he’s hit late in the game.
The result was disastrous. A three-and-out following the defensive stop on 4th-and-goal, a fumble by Peter Lalich while dropping back for a screen pass (a loss of 13 rushing yards), and a short-of-the-first-down scramble on third down by Jameel Sewell ended the Cavaliers’ next three drives.
“I felt like we ran the ball pretty well. They couldn’t really hold us on the run, but when we needed to run the ball we didn’t and we ended up losing the game,” said Virginia’s Branden Albert , who indicated he would get back to Charlottesville and sort out what decision to make regarding the NFL.
“The first thing that happens after a team loses is to begin the blame game,” Groh said when asked about Lalich’s fumble, though he did indicate that someone missed a blocking assignment on the play. “This has been a tight, close-knit team. As we said before, when we lose, we all lose. We all could have done better. I could have called a better game. We could have executed that play better. We could have scored more points. There’s no heartbreak and there’s no bitterness that’s going to divide us.”
The Red Raiders took advantage of the extra offensive chances created by a suddenly stingy run defense. They scored after each of those sputtering drives to rally with 17 points in the final 5:38. First, TT converted a 4th-and-4 play to extend a drive that Michael Crabtree capped with a 20-yard touchdown catch. Next, Tech’s Aaron Crawford carried the ball in to the end zone from four yards out on the first play following Lalich’s fumble. Finally, the Raiders moved the ball 30 yards in 2:09 to set up Alex Trlica’s game-winning 41-yard field goal with two seconds to play.
“I think it gets easier with every time,” Trlica said of winning field goals. “Compared to the first time I had to do it and this time, I was a lot more calm. I knew they were going to call timeout.”
Before the meltdown in the final six minutes, the Cavaliers had done a remarkable job of containing Texas Tech’s prolific offense while dictating the flow of play. The defense was physical and confusing, mixing a rotating blend of coverages with hard-hitting and sure tackling to slow down the Raiders. The result was 14 points allowed through 54 minutes.
Plus, the defense pitched in on the scoreboard with four points of its own by picking up two safeties in the first half. On one, Nate Collins broke free to force Graham Harrell in to an intentional grounding flag. On the second, Clint Sintim beat his blocker to get to Harrell and draw the same flag.
But that wasn’t enough as the Red Raiders found a way to win in the fourth quarter.
“It’s kind of like we’ve been playing all year against other teams, being able to come out at the end,” Simpson said. “Today, it’s just that the tables were turned and now we got the sour end of it. It doesn’t feel too good.”
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