Blair’s Top 10 Student Sports Moments

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Cedric Peerman was Superman for the Hoos in 2008.

There’s nothing quite like Charlottesville in the springtime. As silly as it sounds, I never wanted to go abroad during the school year because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. Fall is football season, of course, but spring has its own special appeal. There’s Foxfield, tons of fun outdoor events, and the Hoos’ annual return to dominance at spring sports. Some of my favorite Cavalier sports moments have happened during the spring, but fall and winter have had their share of memorable times as well.

This marks my last spring of my last year at UVa, and I’ll freely admit that I’m starting to get a little nostalgic. Feel free to disagree with my choices, and take it to the message boards with your suggestions, but here are my top 10 sports moments from my four years as a Virginia student, so far. I know spring sports aren’t quite over yet, so there’s still a chance for men’s tennis to crack the list with an outdoor national title, or for baseball and men’s lacrosse to add to their tally of memorable moments.

10. Virginia 16-No. 18 North Carolina 13 (OT), October 11, 2008

Heading into this game, the Tar Heels hadn’t won a football game in Scott Stadium in 27 years. Unheard of! This year’s Virginia team didn’t measure up to the Cardiac Cavaliers of 2007, and the No. 18 Heels felt that the time was ripe for a win in Charlottesville. This game had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I’ll always remember Marc Verica leading the Hoos down the field and the handoff to Cedric Peerman , the Running Reverend, for the touchdown. I thought I might die when someone got a hand on Robert Randolph’s extra point, but it went through to send the game to overtime.

After the defense held North Carolina to a field goal on the first possession, Peerman took it to the house again for the win. Not only was the win streak preserved (for just two more years, but that’s not the point), this game marked the first time I ever rushed the field at a college football game. As soon as I saw the first few people leave the Hill, I was down the stairs, over the wall, and off to the races. I think there’s still a photo on somewhere of a jubilant player that has most of the back of my head (leopard-print headband and all) in it.

Mustapha Farrakhan stepped into a greater role after the injury to Mike Scott.

9. Virginia Sweeps Virginia Tech In Men’s Basketball, 2010-2011

Even though I spent four years at Virginia without a victory over Virginia Tech in football, I take comfort in the fact that the Hoos were able to sweep the hated Hokies in another revenue sport before I graduated. This season’s sweep probably had an impact on the NCAA selection committee, so I’m happy that UVa was at least partially responsible for Seth Greenberg’s embarrassing comments after his team was relegated to the NIT. What was that? Even after all that moaning and groaning Tech didn’t even do well in the second-flight tournament? I’d like to think the sweep started a nice downward spiral for our friends in Blacksburg. Hopefully this dominance by Tony Bennett’s team will continue.

8. Texas Tech 31-Virginia 28, Konica Minolta Gator Bowl, January 1, 2008

This is the only loss that graces my countdown, and some of you will probably be wondering why it even made the list. The truth is, I wanted to make the entire 2007-2008 football season its own item, and the Gator Bowl was a bittersweet way to cap off an amazing season. I came into UVa my first year without any expectations whatsoever for the football team. You could say that I had us doomed to mediocrity from the start. The 2007 season changed everything. My heart was in my throat every week as I watched the Cardiac Cavaliers eke out win after close win. My family and I even made the trip to Jacksonville for the game. I clearly remember donning my Chris Long t-shirt and jumping around like a lunatic in the front row after Graham Harrell got backed up to his own 6 due to a delay of game penalty. The Red Raiders called a timeout, and the Cavalier defense was waving their arms to pump up the crowd. I guess Long saw some girl wearing his number absolutely losing it and pointed over in my direction. The very next play the defense forces Harrell to intentionally ground the ball in his own end zone. I take full credit for that safety.

Gutting out all those wins by five points or less was something of a blessing and a curse in many ways. It was great because it enflamed my passion for this team, something that has never abated, but it also set me up for three years of disappointments. The Gator Bowl loss was when the magic finally ran out, and WE were the ones on the losing end of a close, hard-fought game. I never cheered so hard at one game my entire life, and watching it trickle away was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to watch. That’s one of the most special things about college sports; they have the power to bring you up so high, and then knock you down just as low. Luckily, the football team restores my faith later on in this countdown.

7. No. 1 Virginia 11-No. 10 North Carolina 10, Big City Classic, April 4, 2009

The inaugural Big City Classic lacrosse tournament was another fun road trip I took my second year – 6 hours up to the Meadowlands and 6 hours back all in one day. Am I crazy? You bet. However, the Hoos made it worth the trip by winning a close game against an ACC rival with plenty of drama.

North Carolina’s senior goalkeeper Grant Zimmerman got injured and had to leave the game midway through the second quarter. He was replaced by little-known freshman James Petracca, who had only played 13 minutes prior to that game. Petracca was in the line of fire one of the most high-powered attacks in the nation. After surrendering a hat trick to Shamel Bratton, the rookie goalie tightened up and, with the help of star UNC attackman Billy Bitter, made it a contest. It seemed like every time UVa found the net, Bitter was right there to tie the score back up again. North Carolina refused to roll over, but the Hoos held the score at 11-10 for the final five minutes of the game. UVa goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman had 18 saves, including one at the final whistle, to preserve the win.

Awesome game, awesome venue, awesome experience.

6. New Head Coaches, 2009 and 2010

I had heard so much hype about the men’s basketball team before I got to Virginia. New stadium! ACC regular season co-champs! Sean Singletary ! However, once I actually became a student, I suffered through two seasons of basketball futility before the Athletic Department finally decided to act. My guess is that Craig Littlepage could sense my growing anguish at the state of our revenue sports programs (football had a less-than-satisfactory 2008 season as well). Out with Leitao, in with Bennett. The 2009 men’s basketball season wasn’t all that great, either, but things were starting to turn. In 2010-11 the team won some big games and, although we didn’t make the NCAA or the NIT, Tony Bennett managed to do a lot more than anyone thought he would with a team full of freshmen and no Mike Scott. Mustapha Farrakhan had plenty of standout performances this year, and former walk-on Will Sherrill became a solid contributor as well as a fan favorite. Joe Harris is going to be a star here, and we get another season of Mike “smh #tragic” Scott. This year, my fourth year, I saw signs of life from this team.

After a 3-9 football season in 2009, it was out with the old and in with the new. People had been clamoring for a new head football coach for some time, and Mike London has been a breath of fresh air. I don’t think it’s really quite a bandwagon, but I’m all aboard the London Express. As far as I’m concerned, the man has it. He’s genuinely interested in reaching out to students, boosters, alumni, fans, and recruits around the state. He’s got energy, enthusiasm, and the players love him. He’s thanked me many times for coming out and showing my support (I must really love this team to get up at 6 a.m. for practice) and I may or may not have had a minor existential crisis a couple of weeks ago when I realized that I had probably just finished my last interview with him. Mark my words, this guy will get us there. I can’t wait to see what happens.

5. Virginia 24-No. 22 Miami 19, October 30, 2010

Remember how I said that my faith in the football team would get restored eventually? Well, here it is. It might have just been luck that Miami QB Jacory Harris got KO’ed by John-Kevin Dolce early in the first half. Or it might have been a head-up, legal play by a hardworking, senior player. It might have just been inexperienced young Hurricane quarterbacks who were responsible for throwing 5 interceptions. Or it might have been increased pressure by our front seven combined with intelligent secondary play. However, no one can deny that the Cavalier offense had a marquee day led by much-maligned senior QB Marc Verica . The offensive line played out of their minds against the No. 2 sack defense in the nation, and true freshman Morgan Moses held his own against the Hurricanes’ Allen Bailey. Even though Miami managed a late-game rally, Verica managed to engineer a long final drive to run out the clock on the Canes.

The postgame celebration for this upset was even more emotional than the UNC game two years ago. The small but faithful student section was unsure about rushing the field, but the players themselves ran over to the Hill and urged the fans to run out and celebrate with them. Coach London fell to his knees on the sideline, overcome with emotion, although he’ll tell you it was due to a combination of exhaustion and a lack of breakfast. I was on the field for this celebration as well, and this one meant so much more to the players, fans, and coaches. It was this game that made me realize that, eventually, we would get there. I saw what was possible with a lot of hard work, a relentless attitude, and maybe even a little luck. I know the team realized it, too.

Brian Carroll had not one, but two clutch goals for Virginia in the epic, 7OT showdown against the Terps.

4. No. 1 Virginia 10-No. 9 Maryland 9 (7OT), March 28, 2009

At home in Klockner Stadium in front of their own fans, it looked as if Virginia was going to drop a close contest in regulation to the Terps. However, the Hoos overcame a three-goal deficit late in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. Little did anyone know, but the game was far from over.

There were a few heart-stopping moments in the first few overtime sessions, but nothing tops the drama that occurred in the first extra session. Goalie Adam Ghitelman came out to make a necessary play on a Maryland attackman, and was (rightly) penalized for it. If he hadn’t fouled his opponent, it would have been a sure goal and the game would be over. Back-up Mark Wade had to come off the bench cold and stopped a shot at point-blank range to keep the Hoos alive. After six overtimes of scoreless play, Virginia won the faceoff in the seventh and elected not to take a timeout, which was somewhat unexpected. Midfielder Brian “Mr. Clutch” Carroll, who also scored the equalizer in regulation, got open and ripped a left-handed shot that put the Cavaliers on top and ended the game.

Although Queens University and Pfeiffer University now hold the record for the longest NCAA lacrosse game (their 2011 contest went deeper into the 7th overtime before Queens managed to score), the previous holder of that title is a game I’ll never forget.

3. No 2 Virginia 0 (3)-No. 1 Akron 0 (2), NCAA Men’s College Cup Final, December 13, 2009

Charlottesville is usually pretty quiet around mid-December, what with everyone either engrossed in exams or gone home for the holidays. However, during my third year the silence was broken by the cheers, screams, car horns, vuvuzelas (yes, we had them), and pots-and-pans percussion section of the Wahoo Faithful as the men’s soccer team captured their sixth national title and the first since 1994.

We all watched with bated breath as the Hoos and the Zips went the full 90 with no goals, and then agonized through two scoreless overtime periods. Finally, it was down to penalty kicks. Diego Restrepo had a huge save to preserve a lead, and in the blink of an eye it was 3-1 Virginia with four shooters left: two for Akron, two for UVa. For the Zips to have a chance, both Cavalier shooters would have to miss while both Akron players would have to score. Unbelievably, Greg Monaco and Jonathan Villanueva both had their shots blocked while one Zip made his. Finally, the last Akron player sent his shot over the crossbar and the game was in the bag. I loved ESPN color commentator (and former UVa player) John Harkes’ call after the final shot, “I want to go home to Charlottesville! I want a Gusburger!”

2. 2009 Virginia Baseball

I didn’t even really have to think about which moments would make my top 10, but ordering them was a different story. Nos. 3 and 2 on the countdown ranked so high because of where I was and what was going on around me when they occurred. Being in Charlottesville for the men’s soccer national title was just as good if not better than being there, and the 2009 Summer of Baseball was even more special.

I was in Charlottesville taking classes during the baseball team’s incredible run to the College World Series, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I remember being glued to the television every day as Virginia marched through the Irvine Regional, taking down the unbeatable Stephen Strasburg and then beating UC Irvine twice to advance to the Super Regional. In Oxford, the Hoos dropped the first game to Ole Miss before rallying with two straight wins over the Rebels to clinch the program’s first ever berth in the College World Series.

Once the team got to Omaha, the Hoos managed to stay alive with a win over Cal State Fullerton after dropping their first contest to LSU. However, against Arkansas the team just didn’t have enough. It looked as if things would set up for a walk-off grand slam and a storybook ending, but it wasn’t to be. What did happen is that the entire city rallied around the team and spent one magical summer riveted by America’s favorite pastime. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t consider myself a baseball fan before that summer, but Coach O’Connor and the Hoos made me a believer.

Will Roberts is perfection.

1. No. 1 Virginia 2-George Washington 0, March 23, 2011

While getting my top 10 in order, I was more than a little surprised that both my No. 1 and No. 2 picks were baseball related. For someone who didn’t even really like baseball all that much prior to 2009, it’s astonishing. However, it was the surprise of the No. 1 moment that made it so memorable.

I had been trying to get quotes for a feature for about a week prior to the Cavaliers’ Tuesday night match-up against George Washington. I had planned on attending the Sunday game of a three-game home series against Maryland, but it was pushed up to Saturday and I couldn’t make it. I figured I would catch a midweek gimme game, get my quotes and head home. However, plans changed once the game really got going.

I had been expecting a blowout win by the Hoos, but what I got was an anemic offensive effort that was preserved by the most incredible individual effort I’ve ever seen in sports. I’m talking about, of course, the perfect game thrown by junior pitcher Will Roberts earlier this season. It was an incredible physical effort (98 pitches in less than 2 hours is nothing to laugh at) but Roberts’ mental toughness simply amazed me. When he got behind in the count, and it happened a couple of times, he would take himself off the mound, collect his thoughts, and return to throw out another batter.

It was about midway through the fifth inning when I realized that something truly special was unfolding. Up until that point I was guilty of not paying the closest attention and doing research for my other planned feature. However, once I checked the stat sheet, I was riveted from that moment on. I nearly lost it when the ball came back to hit Roberts (I thought that was it), but he managed to collect it and get the ball to John Hicks for the out.

The tension at Davenport Field was so thick you could taste it, and everyone in the press box just stared at each other whenever Roberts threw out his next batter. No one wanted to be the one to break the spell by mentioning his perfection, so when Keith Werman caught the last out and tossed it to first, everything just exploded. The radio announcers went wild, the players mobbed Roberts, and the fans got to their feet in an extended ovation.

The 2,000th game in program history coincided with the first perfect game for a Virginia pitcher. I never want to miss another midweek contest ever again.

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