Top 25 Greatest Wins Of Last 25 Years

Chris Long celebrates the 2005 win over Florida State.

Not long ago a writer from Yahoo! Sports provided a feature called, “Virginia Cavaliers Football: The 25 Most Devastating Losses of the Past 25 Years.” I linked this feature within Sabre NewsLink fully expecting the author to provide a companion piece listing the Top 25 greatest wins of the past 25 years. He, unfortunately, did not.

What’s the purpose of listing the worst losses without providing a feature that would likely draw even more readers and give an uplifting balance to the story? Well, I guess that’s where I come in. I didn’t want to leave the Wahoo fan base hanging, so I made my own list of UVa’s greatest wins.

While I expect I’ve locked down a number of the most important and exciting wins over the last 25 years (1987-2011), it’s certainly a subjective topic and I’m sure many UVa fans will have a problem with the order of the list. Or worse, perhaps I’ve missed a glaringly obvious game that should have been included. To help cover for some of this I’ve provided an honorable mention list at the bottom, but in the back of my mind I wonder, “What have I missed?”

So, Wahoo faithful, please accept my humble apology in advance for any important omissions and keep in mind that I missed nearly every game from 1987 to 1989 due to my final three years of active duty military service – just didn’t have good coverage in Belgium and Kansas those years ;). However, I was fortunate enough to be home on leave and attended the road game against Maryland in 1989, the 10th regular-season win of the season. I still remember Virginia fans throwing oranges onto the field as the Cavaliers had just secured the ACC Championship and were on their way to the Florida Citrus Bowl.

So without further ado, here’s my list of UVa’s Top 25 greatest wins over the last 25 years. Whether you agree with my list and the order or not, if you’re a Virginia football fan, I guarantee you will come away smiling – especially if you take the time to view the linked highlights. Enjoy!

Fans celebrate a dramatic win over No. 2 FSU in 1995.

1. Virginia vs. No. 2 Florida State (1995) – Virginia’s improbable 33-28 victory marked the first time an ACC team had beaten FSU since its entrance into the conference. UVa was led by Tiki Barber, who blistered the Seminoles for 311 total yards, 193 of them rushing, including a 64-yard scamper down the sidelines on a pitch play early in the game. Electricity was in the air as Virginia played toe-to-toe with the Seminoles for four quarters of intense action during the ESPN Thursday night broadcast. Barber’s touchdown wasn’t the only big play in the game.

During the second quarter, Demetrius ‘Pete’ Allen scored on a 72-yard bomb from Mike Groh, who completed 19 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. One of the key factors in the win was the punting of Will Brice, who kept the Seminoles in poor field position much of the night. The crowd erupted in jubilation when Jamie Sharper, Adrian Burnim, and Anthony Poindexter all pitched in to stop FSU running back Warrick Dunn from crossing the goal line as time expired. The goal posts came down as the Cavaliers won what stands today as the most significant game in school history, defeating the second-ranked Seminoles. YouTube highlights.

Ahmad Hawkins scored the game-winning touchdown on a 46-yard pass from Aaron Brooks against VT in 1998.

2. Virginia at No. 20 Virginia Tech (1998) – If it wasn’t for the 1995 FSU game, this would easily be No. 1 in my opinion. Perhaps it should be listed as 1A considering it remains the greatest comeback in Virginia football history, it happened against the Cavaliers’ big rival, and it happened on the opponent’s home turf. While there were a number of significant plays in the game, the one most remembered is Aaron Brooks’ 47-yard touchdown pass to Ahmad Hawkins to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Brooks finished with 345 yards on 19-of-32 passing and three second-half touchdowns.

Anthony Poindexter was on crutches for the game, but that didn’t stop him from getting involved in the game. With the team down 22 points at the half (29-7), Virginia coaches excused themselves from the locker room as Poindexter gave his teammates an earful. Coming out of the half, Virginia immediately responded with a quick touchdown strike from Brooks to receiver Kevin Coffey. The defense stepped up as well with an all out mauling of VT’s kicker Jimmy Kibble on an attempted punt, and an eventual 53-yard interception for a touchdown by Byron Thweatt. YouTube highlights.

3. Virginia vs. No. 9 Clemson (1990) – This was a landmark victory as the Hoos had not previously defeated a Top 10 program, nor had they ever beaten the Tigers, who held a 29-0 record over the Cavaliers entering the game. Anticipation of a great season was in the air after the Hoos posted 10 regular-season wins the year prior, and began the 1990 season with a 59-10 thrashing of Kansas. A record crowd of 46,800 fans turned out for the game. And for the first time in school history tickets were selling for well more than $100 each.

One of the key moments of the game was when, during the closing minutes of the first half, Chris Slade sacked Clemson’s DeShane Cameron causing a fumble. Junior linebacker James Pearson pounced on the loose ball and Jake McInerny connected on a 26-yard field goal to narrow Clemson’s lead, 7-6, before the half. Virginia’s defense continued to dominate Clemson the remainder of the game, helping the Hoos post a 20-7 victory. The Cavaliers’ final two scores were third quarter touchdowns: a 4-yard run by Terry Kirby and the infamous 12-yard jump ball pass from Shawn Moore to Herman Moore immediately following a 79-yard punt return from Jason “The Fly” Wallace. YouTube highlights Part 1, Part 2.

Tiki Barber scored 3 early TDs to help defeat Texas in 1996.

4. Virginia vs. No. 13 Texas (1996) – After having a victory ripped from their grasps by officials the year prior against Texas, Tiki Barber and the Hoos enjoyed the sweet taste of revenge over the Longhorns in the driving rain, 37-13. Barber scored three straight touchdowns in the first half to put Texas in the hole early, 21-0. On one scoring run, Barber gave the referee a high five as he held up the touchdown signal. The Cavalier defense forced six turnovers and limited Ricky Williams and company to just 111 yards rushing. James Farrior had nine tackles in the game, including a sack, tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and an interception. YouTube highlights

5. Virginia vs. No. 6 North Carolina (1996) – After a bobbled Aaron Brooks pass was intercepted at the beginning of the fourth quarter and returned inside the 10, it looked like instant defeat for Virginia, which was already down 14-0. With North Carolina set up with a 3rd-and-Goal situation, safety Antwan Harris intercepted Chris Keldorf and sprinted 95 yards to set up one of the greatest comebacks in Virginia football history.

Leading the comeback was quarterback Tim Sherman, who had only moments before been replaced by Aaron Brooks for his ineffective play. The dramatic comeback culminated in a Rafael Garcia 32-yard field goal to win the game. YouTube highlights.

Matt Schaub during the Hoos’ victory over VT in 2003.

6. Virginia vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech (2003) – Matt Schaub and the Hoos lead Virginia to a decisive victory over the Hokies. Down 14-7 at the half, the Cavaliers separated themselves from their opponent by scoring 28 points in the second half and holding Tech to just 7. It was the first win over the Hokies following the aforementioned 1998 comeback victory, and the only win over them since.

Matt Schaub was 32-48 for 358 yards and two touchdowns and tied Shawn Moore’s record of 55 TD passes for a career (Schaub would later break that record in the bowl game against Pitt). Wali Lundy scored four touchdowns in the game, including three rushing. And tight end Heath Miller caught 13 passes for 145 yards as the Hoos cruised to victory. YouTube highlights.

7. Virginia vs. No. 4 Florida State (2005) – Marques Hagans had one of the greatest performances of a Virginia quarterback in school history to help topple the Seminoles, 26-21. “We couldn’t stop that dadgum number 18,” said FSU Coach Bobby Bowden. “I’ve never seen a quarterback make as many one-man plays as he made tonight.” Hagans escaped heavy pressure all night long in the pocket to create a thrilling spectacle for UVa fans.

“That dadgum No. 18” had the game of his career against FSU in 2005.

Hagans threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns in the game. It was only the second time the Cavaliers had beaten a Top 5 team, ironically both times coming against FSU. Safety Tony Franklin intercepted FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford with 50 seconds left to secure the win.

8. Virginia vs. Georgia (1995) – In one of UVa’s most exciting seasons ever, this game served up even more. In the closing moments of the game, with UVa up 27-20, quarterback Mike Groh tossed a pass to tight end Walt Derey who fumbled at the Cavaliers’ 14-yard line. Georgia defensive tackle Jason Ferguson picked up the ball and ran into the end zone, tying the game at 27 and giving Virginia fans another, “Oh no!” moment for the 1995 season.

Then, after a celebration penalty was assessed to Georgia on the kickoff, Demetrius ‘Pete” Allen stole the show as he returned the kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute to play to help Virginia win its second Peach Bowl, 34-27. “I said all season I was going to return [a kickoff] for a touchdown,” said Allen. “But at that moment I wasn’t even thinking about what I had said. All I could see was the goal line.” It was the seventh time of the season a game was won in the final moments – three of which were decided on the last play. “I guess it only figures that this game would end like this,” said Tiki Barber. “This is awesome.” Barber was named Offensive Player of the Game after rushing for 103 yards and one touchdown. YouTube highlights.

Shawn Moore and Virginia won the ACC Title in 1989 after defeating Maryland.

9. Virginia at Maryland (1989) – The Cavaliers have won 10 regular season games just once in history, and the 10th victory ended decisively for the Hoos when they dominated the Terrapins, 48-21, in College Park. Shawn Moore threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more while accumulating 161 yards through the air and 121 on the ground. It was the first time a UVa quarterback had topped the 100-yard mark in passing and rushing in a single game since 1975. It was also the first win on the road at Maryland since 1971.

Perhaps the most memorable play was a last second hail-mary touchdown pass from Shawn Moore to Herman Moore to close the first half. Marcus Wilson and freshman Terry Kirby each rushed for 95 yards. The win tied Virginia for first place in the ACC and gave the Hoos their first ever New Year’s Day bowl game. Oranges flooded Byrd Stadium’s field as the clocked ticked to zero.

10. Virginia at No. 12 Penn State (1989) – After an embarrassing 36-13 loss to No. 2 Notre Dame in the Kickoff Classic a week before, Shawn Moore and the Hoos took care of Penn State on the road, 14-6. It was Shawn Moore’s first career win over a ranked opponent and set the stage for Virginia to win the conference and achieve 10 regular season wins – something that hasn’t happened since. Shawn Moore hit receiver Herman Moore for two touchdown passes, including the jump ball. It would begin what would become known as the “Moore-to-Moore Combination,” and would be nearly impossible for teams to stop for the next two seasons. Defensive back Tyrone Lewis accounted for nine tackles in the game, including a pass break-up and fumble recovery.

11. Virginia at No. 25 Auburn (1998) – Aaron Brooks, Anthony Poindexter and company went into Jordan-Hare Stadium and shut out the Tigers, 19-0, silencing what is typically one of the loudest stadiums in the nation. The Cavalier defense held Auburn to just 18 yards rushing and 179 yards of total offense. “We knew coming in they were going to be committed to running the ball, so we knew we had to shut down the run,” Anthony Poindexter said. “We knew we had to make them pass and I think we were effective doing that.” The Virginia defense made things tough for first-time Auburn starting quarterback Ben Leard, holding him to just 11 of 25 completions for 146 yards and an interception (by Poindexter). UVa quarterback Aaron Brooks redeemed himself from the previous season’s loss to the Tigers, going 16 of 28 for 220 yards and throwing one touchdown, a 61-yarder to Kevin Coffey in the second quarter. Thomas Jones scored one touchdown and rushed for 100 yards, and Todd Braverman added two field goals.

Clint Sintim focuses while Miami players have pregame fun with their fans.

12. Virginia at Miami (2007) – In what was supposed to be an incredible ceremony for the Hurricanes in their final collegiate game played in the Orange Bowl, the Hoos ruined the party by destroying Miami 48-0. Dozens of former star Miami players were in attendance for the rout. “I have too much pride in myself and this football team to think something like this could happen,” said Miami Coach Randy Shannon. It was Miami’s first home shutout loss since 1974, and the largest margin of victory for an opponent since 1944. Cavalier quarterback Jameel Sewell completed 20 of 25 passes for 288 yards, guiding Virginia to only its third 9-win regular season in school history. The Hoos held the Canes to just 9 first downs while racking up 21 of their own.

13. Virginia at Clemson (1995) – Coming into the contest, Virginia had never won in Death Valley and had managed just one tie in 18 tries. During a cold and rainy afternoon, the Cavalier defense held the Tigers scoreless until the 6-minute mark of the third quarter. But a single field goal was all Clemson could muster in the 22-3 loss to Virginia. Receiver Patrick Jeffers racked up 112 yards receiving on four catches, including a 76-yarder from quarterback Mike Groh, who finished with 171 yards on only nine passes. But it was punting and defense that pushed the Cavaliers to victory. Will Brice averaged 41 yards on eight punts and Anthony Poindexter posted a game-high 15 tackles.

14. Virginia vs. No. 15 West Virginia (2002) – In an exciting conclusion to the 2002 season, Virginia throttled West Virginia, 48-22, in the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte. Spearheading the effort was running back Wali Lundy, who gained 239 all-purpose yards. Lundy ran for 127 yards, scoring two touchdowns of 4 and 31 yards. He also caught five passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including passes from both Matt Schaub and sophomore receiver Marques Hagans. Hagans not only threw a TD pass to Lundy, he also returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. Matt Schaub completed 16 of 22 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown.

15. Virginia vs. No. 18 Maryland (2002) – Matt Schaub and Virginia routed Ralph Friedgen’s Terps, 48-13, to line up the Hoos for their first bowl game of the Al Groh era. Schaub torched Maryland for 249 yards on 23-of-27 passing with three touchdowns. Virginia players came into the game with something to prove after an ill-advised comment from Friedgen earlier in the week. “They compared us to Duke!” said linebacker Merrill Robertson. “That really ticked us off. We put it on ’em.” Billy McMullen grabbed seven passes for 92 yards and also tossed a 37-yard touchdown pass to fellow receiver Michael McGrew.

16. Virginia vs. No. 20 Georgia Tech (2001) – Whether you want to say “Hook and Lateral” or “Hook and Ladder,” this is the game most UVa fans are referring to when uttering those words. In what appeared to be yet another loss in a season of many losses in Al Groh’s first year as head coach, the Virginia offense lined up down by five points with 1st-and-10 at Georgia Tech’s 37-yard line with just 22 seconds left. That’s when offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave called for a ‘Hail Mary’ of sorts – an unexpected Hook and Lateral play. Quarterback Bryson Spinner tossed a 10-yard pass to receiver Billy McMullen who then tossed the ball back to running back Alvin Pearman, who ran untouched into the end zone to seal the victory. The 39-38 victory was a wild one, as most UVa-GT match-ups had been over the past decade. UVa quarterback Bryson Spinner and GT quarterback George Godsey combined for 813 yards passing on the day. Spinner tossed five touchdowns in the game as well. Tavon Mason also returned a kickoff back 100 yards for a score in the fourth quarter, a quarter that saw seven touchdowns scored between the two teams.

Aaron Brooks and the Hoos spanked the Hokies in 1997, while Dan Ellis helped Virginia win at BYU in 1999.

17. Virginia vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech (1997) – Any win over your rival is a good one, but this was an absolute dominating performance by Aaron Brooks and the Hoos. But the 34-20 final score doesn’t tell the story as the Hokies scored a touchdown with just more than a minute to play in the final quarter to shave the lead. Aaron Brooks led the way with 390 yards, completing 23 of his 34 passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Thomas Jones ran for 102 yards on 22 carries, including a 60-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He also caught three passes for 50 yards. Receiver Germane Crowell reeled in nine catches for 162 yards, including 4-yard and 25-yard TD passes from Brooks.

18. Virginia at No. 17 BYU (1999) – One of the longest away trips for a regular season game the Hoos have endured, this was a “Wild Wild West” shootout – one of those games where you just knew the team that had the ball last would win the game. And it almost turned out that way. Safety Jerton Evans intercepted BYU’s Kevin Feterik in the end zone with 1:37 left to play to secure an exciting 45-40 win. Top performers on the day were Thomas Jones, who rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns, and Dan Ellis, who threw for 168 yards and three touchdowns.

19. Virginia vs. No. 7 Georgia Tech (1999) – In yet another exciting and high-scoring match-up with the Yellow Jackets, the Hoos prevailed 45-38. One of the more remarkable aspects of this game was that quarterback David Rivers was making his first start in place of an injured Dan Ellis – and he did not disappoint. Rivers completed 18 of 30 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns and outshined the Yellow Jackets’ Heisman hopeful, quarterback Joe Hamilton . “It’s what you dream of,” said Rivers, a native of Augusta, Georgia. “Just given the chance to come out and play against Georgia Tech. And it’s icing on the cake that they were the seventh-ranked team in the country. It’s amazing.” Thomas Jones rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns to help Virginia come back from a 17-0 first-half deficit.

20. Virginia vs. Pittsburgh (2003) – Matt Schaub became the only the second quarterback in school history to achieve two bowl game wins by leading Virginia to a win over Pitt in the Continental Tire Bowl, 23-16. Schaub went 20 of 31 with 244 yards and one touchdown. He completed his career this day as the all-time leader in most of Virginia’s quarterback statistic categories, including passing yards (7,502) and passing touchdowns (56). Alvin Pearman ran for 104 yards and averaged 15 yards per carry thanks to a 51-yard scamper. And Heath Miller caught a 52-yard strike from Schaub to get the scoring started. The Cavalier defense held Heisman Trophy runner-up Larry Fitzgerald in check, breaking his streak of consecutive games scoring a touchdown (18).

21. Virginia at Florida State (2011) – While Florida State wasn’t ranked, this game marked Virginia’s first ever win in Tallahassee, and gave second-year head coach Mike London a surprising eighth win of the season. Along with a win at Miami, it marked the first time the Cavaliers have beaten both Florida schools in a single season. It was a defensive struggle that ended in a bit of controversy. A number of plays gave Florida State additional opportunities, including an over-turned call on an FSU catch that would have killed the clock and a 5-yard “disconcerting signal” penalty that gave the Seminoles’ kicker a shot to win the game. With 3 seconds remaining, FSU’s Dustin Hopkins missed the 42-yard field goal attempt, and Virginia walked out of Doak Campbell Stadium a winner. “I have never been involved in a game like that,” said London. “Coming into a place like this – it’s got great college football tradition – and win like this, it might be one of the best wins I’ve been involved with in my whole coaching career including the championship at Richmond.”

UNC’s Oscar Davenport attempts to calm down freshman Ronald Curry against UVa in 1998.

22. Virginia vs. North Carolina (1998) – Remember the name Ronald Curry? For those who don’t know or don’t remember, he was the No. 1 rated quarterback and No. 1 rated point guard in the nation when he committed to Virginia the year prior. Curry de-committed from Virginia and signed with North Carolina after being convinced his future would be in basketball. This game marked the first time freshman quarterback Curry had been to UVa since changing sides. A frenzied Wahoo crowd and a fired up Virginia team pressured Curry into so many mistakes that he saw little time on the field. Thomas Jones led the Cavaliers on offense with 180 yards on 35 carries, while Terrence Wilkins pulled in four catches for 167 yards. But it was Virginia’s defense that set the tone, coming hard after the Heels’ quarterbacks. Patrick Kerney and Darryl Sanders each contributed two sacks with Sanders forcing two fumbles. The defense also held Carolina to just 54 yards rushing en route to a dominating 30-13 victory. “That was a great way to end four years here with them [the crowd] going nuts,” said Kerney. “The crowd was amazing.”

23. Virginia vs. Minnesota (2005) – The Music City Bowl marks the last time Virginia achieved a win in a bowl game. Connor Hughes kicked a 39-yard field goal with barely more than a minute to play to give the Hoos the win, 34-31. It wasn’t without some late-game dramatics. Minnesota quickly moved the ball into Virginia territory, but with 36 seconds left, UVa cornerback Marcus Hamilton intercepted Bryan Cupito’s pass to seal the victory. Senior quarterback Marques Hagans threw for a career-high 358 yards and brought the Cavaliers back from a 14-0 first-half deficit. Hagans passing yardage was the fifth-highest in history for a UVa quarterback, and the most for a bowl game. Linebacker Kai Parham contributed a team-high 14 tackles.

24. Virginia at Maryland (1999) – Dan Ellis isn’t mentioned when fans talk about UVa’s all-time great quarterbacks, but he had one of the best performances ever as a Cavalier signal caller against the Terrapins. Ellis’ numbers were excellent in the Hoos’ 34-30 victory over the Terps; he completed 21 of 34 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns. But stats don’t tell the whole story. Virginia had been up 17-0 in the first quarter and it appeared to be a laugher. But the Terrapins rode the back of LaMont Jordan’s 306 yards rushing and eventually took the lead, 30-27, with just 5:18 to play. Virginia failed to move the ball on the next series, but so did Maryland and UVa got another chance. That’s when Ellis did the unthinkable. With the ball on the Virginia 24-yard line and no timeouts, Ellis commanded the Cavaliers down the field on a nine-play drive in just 46 seconds, setting up the game winning play – a 20-yard jump ball touchdown to Billy McMullen in the corner of the end zone with just 26 seconds left in the game.

25. Virginia at North Carolina (1999) – After missing a heart-breaking 48-yard field goal that would have won the 1998 Peach Bowl, Todd Braverman got another chance and proved his merit early in the season. He nailed a 50-yard field goal with only 27 seconds left to beat the Heels on their home field. Thomas Jones rushed for 149 yards on 35 carries. Kevin Coffey caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown from quarterback Dan Ellis, who struggled on the day with three interceptions. But the Cavalier defense was able to hold UNC quarterback Ronald Curry in check, holding him to just 147 yards on 10-of-28 passing with two interceptions of his own.

Honorable Mention

The fear in making a Top 25 Greatest Wins list is omitting some games that could easily be interchanged with those above. Here they are. Each has merit and needed mentioning:

Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (1991) – It’s not often you get a shut-out win over your biggest rival. The Cavaliers’ 38-0 pummeling of the Hokies deserves mention. Quarterback Matt Blundin threw for 222 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. And the Wahoo defense sacked Virginia Tech’s quarterbacks seven times, including five from Chris Slade.

Virginia vs. BYU (1987) – Virginia wins the All-American Bowl, 22-16 – only its second bowl victory in program history. The Cavaliers stepped up on defense to hold a potent Cougar offense to just 16 points, in spite of Sean Covey’s 394 yards passing. Offensively, Virginia posted 274 yards rushing and senior quarterback Scott Secules threw for 162 yards on just 10 completions.

Virginia vs. No. 22 Georgia Tech (1992) – The Hoos devastated the Jackets 55-24. Terry Kirby rushed for 135 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown and quarterback Bobby Goodman threw for 177 yards with 11 completions. Linebackers Randy Neal and Tom Burns led the defensive effort, combining for 27 tackles with 20 of them unassisted. One of the biggest highlights was Jerrod Washington’s 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half.

Virginia at No. 14 Virginia Tech (1994) – Winning 42-23 over your rival on their home turf? Priceless. Kicker Rafael Garcia made five field goals, a UVa record. Defensive backs Percy Ellsworth and Joe Crocker each had two interceptions. Tailback Kevin Brooks rushed for a game-high 108 yards on 23 carries, including one touchdown. Tiki Barber added a score and Charles Way rushed for two more in the win.

Virginia at Maryland (1997) 45-0. It was Virginia’s biggest win over Maryland in the long history of the two programs. Aaron Brooks threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more in the rout and out-performed his running backs as well. Neither Thomas Jones (72 yards) nor Anthony Southern (61 yards) could surpass Brooks’ team-high 77 yards on the ground, although 59 of those came on a touchdown run.

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