Hoos Grab Dramatic Win At FSU

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UVa’s Kevin Parks scored the game-winning TD.

Virginia had never won in Tallahassee. Until now. Not that it was easy.

In one of the most dramatic conclusions in UVa history, the Cavaliers scored the go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes and then held on through a nerve-rattling final 76 seconds to upset No. 25 Florida State on Saturday, 14-13. Just the third win ever in the state of Florida for the program, Virginia improves to 8-3 and, more importantly, 5-2 in league play, which sets up a showdown with rival Virginia Tech next weekend for the ACC’s Coastal Division title and a spot in the conference’s championship game. The Hoos have won three games in November for the first time since 1999.

“I tell you what, it was unbelievable. It was a great win for the program, for the players, and coaches,” Virginia coach Mike London said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “As I said, it was almost like a David and Goliath type of thing. We talked about David when he picked up his stones, he ran toward Goliath. When you play a great team like Florida State, you can’t sit back on your laurels, you can’t sit and wait to see what’s going to happen because they’re a tremendous team with tremendous athletes. What you’ve got to do is go run right at them. Everything we tried to do was game planned on just trying to not to be timid … and I just think we found ways to win the game.”

Getting the huge road victory took some late-game magic, something this team has been pulling out of its collective helmet all season long. For the fourth time this season, after all, Virginia’s fate came down to the final play. Against Indiana, Robert Randolph gave the Cavaliers a 34-31 win. Against Idaho, Rodney McLeod ‘s pass breakup in the end zone preserved a 21-20 overtime victory. Against Miami, the defense survived a last-snap scramble drill and underneath completion by making a tackle short of the goal line to clinch Virginia’s 28-21 win.

Against Florida State, the final play came down to a field goal try from 42 yards away, but Seminole kicker Dustin Hopkins’ attempt faded wide left to give UVa the 14-13 victory.

“As I said, to come in to a place like this with great college football tradition and win like this, it might be one of the best wins I’ve been involved with my whole coaching career, even the championship with Richmond,” London said on the radio broadcast. “It’s just one of those things that these guys, they were not going to be denied and we’re just going to find a way to just keep playing and winning. I’m honored. I’m very humbled and I’m honored to be a part of what’s going on with this team. It’s truly amazing.”

How things got to that point takes some explaining.

After a kickoff return placed FSU at its own 41-yard line to start the drive, the hosts faced 4th-and-1 with 38 seconds remaining. On the play, Cavalier defensive end Cam Johnson sacked Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel and the defense began to celebrate. A facemask penalty on Johnson, however, moved the ball 15 yards and gave the Seminoles an automatic first down.

After a run to the Virginia 30-yard line, Manuel took a shot to the end zone but rarely used reserve cornerback Drequan Hoskey, in the game due to an injury to nickel sub Dom Joseph , broke up the attempted pass. Then on third down, FSU tried to move the ball closer for its kicker with 8 seconds remaining, but an apparent diving sideline catch to Bert Reed stayed inbounds and the clock ran out since the hosts had no timeouts remaining. With the Virginia team headed to the tunnel, however, that play went to the replay booth for review where the completed pass call was overturned after nearly five minutes of analysis. As a result of the incompletion, three seconds remained in the game and gave Hopkins a chance at a 47-yard field goal attempt.

As Florida State lined up for the kick, Virginia’s line shifted heavily into the middle when a penalty flag flew to the turf. The call went against UVa for a disconcerting defensive signal rule. London’s postgame interview on the Virginia Sports Network suggested that the Hoos may have been called for the fourth variation of the rule: “Player(s) aligned in a stationary position within one yard of the line of scrimmage may not make quick or abrupt actions that are not part of normal defensive player movement.” Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds told reporters after the game that it was the third variation of the rule: “No player shall use words or signals that disconcert opponents when they are preparing to put the ball in play. No player may call defensive signals that simulate the sound or cadence of (or otherwise interfere with) offensive starting signals.” The flag moved the ball to the 42-yard range for Hopkins, but the kick missed wide left.

“I never heard this before, but disconcerting signal. We’re lining up like Desperado trying to block a field goal and the outside guys are moving inside to tighten up on the guards and get in the gaps to try to get push,” London said on the radio broadcast. “I guess because we moved in like that to stem our alignment, that’s where the signal came from so they moved five yards up closer. I never been involved in a game like that that had so many [endings].”

Of course, all of those nail-biting moments of swinging emotions over the final 1:16 followed an equally dramatic drive by the Virginia offense. The Cavaliers, who have won 6 of their last 7 games, marched 75 yards in 47 seconds to take the 14-13 lead.

On the go-ahead drive, quarterback Michael Rocco connected on four passes – two to Perry Jones , one to Kris Burd , and his longest completion of the game, a big 34-yarder to Tim Smith – to quickly move the ball to the FSU 10-yard line. That was one of six catches for Burd, who passed Heath Miller for No. 2 all-time at Virginia in career receptions; Burd has 149, while Miller finished with 144. Burd has a catch in 34 of the last 35 games at UVa.

On the first play from the 10, Kevin Parks took a handoff up the middle on 1st-and-Goal to give the Cavs the lead. Parks set a new UVa freshman record for rushing touchdowns on that play with his eighth of the season, which bypassed Howard Petty (1983) and Marcus Wilson (1987) on the list.

QB Michael Rocco completed 21 passes for the Hoos.

Rocco finished the game 21-of-32 passing for 238 yards with 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions. In the last seven games, Rocco has thrown 10 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions. Rocco now has 2,148 yards passing in 2011, which is good enough for 13th place on Virginia’s single-season records chart.

“I was just thinking get the ball to my playmakers like we try to do all game and don’t force bad decisions because we had a lot of time and two timeouts,” Rocco said about the last drive on the radio broadcast. “If a checkdown was there, I was going to hit it and not force the ball downfield, but we had a couple of big plays down the field and we hit them.”

The high-drama moments during the final two minutes weren’t the only highlights in a defensive slugfest; Florida State’s defense held UVa’s strong rushing attack, averaging 187.6 yards entering the game, to just 78 yards, while Virginia’s D held high-octane FSU to just 13 points, well below its 34.6 average coming into the contest. Some of the critical plays by the Cavaliers:

  • Bill Schautz forced a fumble in the first quarter with Florida State at the UVa 12-yard line; Reynolds, who had 8 tackles, recovered.
  • Perry Jones held on to a 7-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score even when Nole safety Terrance Parks popped him as he secured the ball.
  • The Seminoles found a way to get Reed open in the middle of the field late in the third quarter and he streaked up the seam for a 68-yard gain. The only thing that kept it from being a 69-yard touchdown reception, however, was Chase Minnifield chasing the ball down from the opposite side of the field to make a diving ankle tackle at the 1-yard line. A goal line stand followed where linebacker Aaron Taliaferro made a Tackle For Loss on first down and linebacker Steve Greer sacked Manuel on third down.
  • Steve Greer came up with a pair of big plays in the second half at FSU.

  • Greer, who had 8 tackles, also came up with a sack on a third down blitz late in the fourth quarter that knocked Florida State out of field goal range with a chance to build on a 13-7 lead. On the play with 2:27 remaining and the ball at the Virginia 30-yard line, Greer brought down Manuel for a 14-yard loss.

In other words, the Cavaliers chalked up quite a few crucial plays in order to get the win despite being underdogs of more than 17 points before the game.

“This was a big game for us. There’s a lot riding on the line, but I told the boys before the game ‘We belong here. We belong here man,'” Minnifield said on the radio broadcast. “It’s been like that all season, the ‘us against the world’ mentality. We started the season and we were overlooked. It’s been that way the whole season.”

Not anymore. The Hoos have everyone’s attention after winning on national TV again this week and setting up a chance to play for the ACC’s Coastal Division title. Kickoff against the Hokies at Scott Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m.

Final Stats

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