Vic Hall iced another Virginia win with a late interception against Georgia Tech.
ATLANTA, Ga. – As Virginia continues to overcome double-digit spreads as the underdog on its way to four straight wins, the Cedric Peerman and Clint Sintim show goes on. And, Saturday afternoon, it included an appearance from Vic Hall.
With Virginia leading by a touchdown and Georgia Tech driving with 1:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, Hall broke in front of intended receiver Roddy Jones for a diving interception to ice yet another stunning come-from-behind victory. Coming into this game as 14-point underdogs, the 24-17 win gives Virginia its fourth consecutive win of the season – its first on the road – and places the team in first place in the Coastal Division. It is also Virginia’s first road win against a ranked opponent since a victory at Clemson in 2001.
“It was kind of like a hot air balloon just sucked out [the energy],” senior outside linebacker Clint Sintim said of the crowd following the interception. “You could hear a pin drop in the stadium.”
“I got a good read on his route and made a great break on the ball,” Hall said.
The play saved Virginia coach Al Groh from what could have been a barrage of criticism after he cost his team five yards on a sideline infraction on the preceding play. On 4th-and-10, Groh went out onto the field to nearly the hash mark to yell instructions to sophomore cornerback Ras-I Dowling, resulting in the 5-yard penalty. On the next snap (4th-and-5), Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt hit wide receiver DeMaryius Thomas right at the chains for a first down to keep the drive alive.
“I guess the official thought it was an important thing to do at that time of the game to make his presence known,” Groh said. “There’s an old saying – you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, you’ve got to know when to fold ’em. It applies to a lot of phases in life.”
Thanks in part to Hall’s interception, however, the focus in postgame interviews was less about the sideline mishap and more about the continued dominance of Peerman, who seems to run through tackles and gain yards when he shouldn’t more and more often in each game.
Peerman had back-to-back runs to put Virginia in the end zone with 3:29 remaining that were a microcosm of his performance Saturday. From the Georgia Tech 11 yard-line, Peerman received two consecutive handoffs to the right. On each run, he bounced to the outside, and dove to his destination – first to the first-down marker on 3rd-and-8, then to the pylon on 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Both plays were reviewed, and both revealed that Peerman had reached his mark by the nose of a football.
For the afternoon, Peerman rushed 25 times for 127 yards and a touchdown.
“There’s nothing that I could say about Cedric that would do him justice to anybody who saw it with their own eyes,” Groh said. “His play, as much as everybody that probably you’ve ever seen, just speaks for itself.”
Peerman, of course, was quick to point out the play of the offensive line – “I can’t run the ball without my teammates,” he said – and the credit was much-deserved. In addition to helping Peerman to another monster game, the line was excellent in pass protection against one of the best defensive lines in the conference.
“If [Verica’s] got a pocket like that, he’s got a chance to operate,” Groh said.
Clint Sintim has 9.5 sacks on the year after adding another 1.5 in Atlanta.
Sintim, meanwhile, continued his pass-rushing rampage. He was credited for 1.5 sacks, giving him an ACC-leading 9.5 on the year. With 25.5 career sacks, Sintim is just 1.5 behind Darryl Blackstock, UVa’s all-time sack leader at the linebacker position.
His lone unassisted sack featured a monumental stop late in the fourth quarter with the score 17-14 in Virginia’s favor. After Georgia Tech took over at the 31-yard line following a fumble by sophomore quarterback Marc Verica , Sintim chased down the elusive Nesbitt for a 12-yard loss on 3rd-and-seven from the 12. UVa eventually held the Yellow Jackets to just a field goal.
Should Virginia play 13 games this season, Sintim is on pace for 15.5 sacks – 1.5 more than Chris Long ‘s 14 of last season.
“It’d be great to have 14 [sacks],” Sintim said. “15 would be even better.”
It took a full quarter, however, for Sintim and company to figure out a way to slow down Paul Johnson’s triple option scheme, as the Yellow Jackets scored on their first two possessions to put Virginia on the ropes with an early 14-3 lead. Georgia Tech alternated tosses to A-back Roddy Jones and inside handoffs to B-back Jonathan Dwyer on its opening score of the game, a 73-yard drive on 11 positive rushing plays. Then, on the first play from scrimmage on the next drive, Nesbitt found Thomas in a seam between the cornerback and the safety on a play-action pass play for a 42-yard reception to the Virginia 3 yard-line. Moments later, GT had another touchdown and led by 11 points.
From there, however, Virginia began to piece together a sound defensive strategy. The Cavaliers held Georgia Tech to just 80 rushing yards and 61 passing yards after the first quarter.
“One of the things about this offense, its not necessarily the plays themselves, it’s the blocking schemes, the multitude of blocking schemes, with which each one of those particular plays can be put together,” Groh said. “If you beat blocks, you can stop them; if you don’t beat blocks, it doesn’t make any difference what schemes you call. Sure, we put them in some positions to do that, but the player did everything – they really stepped up.”
Marc Verica had two touchdown passes in the win.
From there, Verica rebounded from an early interception and hit wide receivers Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington for long touchdown passes to get the Cavs back in the game. Ogletree and Covington “struggled to get on their game earlier in the year from circumstances really beyond their control,” Groh said. “They’re feeling a lot perkier now.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt Virginia’s chances that Josh Nesbitt fumbled on two routine exchanges, the second time deep in UVa territory. Late in the third quarter, on a 2nd-and-goal at the Virginia 4-yard line and the Cavaliers leading 17-14, Nesbitt lost the ball as he executed a fake handoff to Jonathan Dwyer; outside linebacker Denzel Burell pounced on the ball to swing the momentum back toward Virginia.
And so the improbable comeback was sustained, and the even more improbable turnaround continues. After a 1-3 start, Virginia finds itself alone in the lead in the Coastal Division in the race to Tampa Bay.
“Wow, didn’t know that,” Sintim said. “Not too bad for a team that was picked to finish … second to last [in the ACC] behind Duke.”