For the first time since 2009, the Virginia football team took a lead in its rivalry showdown with Virginia Tech. It didn’t last. The Hokies rallied from a 14-7 deficit in the second half to capture the 17-14 win in Blacksburg, handing the Cavaliers their ninth straight loss in the series.
While the score remained closer than the last three meetings, the loss still stung for the Hoos, who finished the season 4-8 and 2-6 in the ACC.
“Our goal is to win the game and to execute enough to win the game,” UVa QB Michael Rocco told The Daily Progress. “We came close, but we came up short. It’s tough for our seniors, especially. It’s never a good feeling losing to Tech.”
The game’s finishing stretch added to the frustration. After leading 14-7, the Cavaliers failed to execute a fake field goal – VT coach Frank Beamer said the stop “was pretty significant” on that play – and that turned momentum to the hosts. The Hokies marched down the field to tie the score with a 15-play, 85-yard touchdown drive. Still, the score remained knotted and when Virginia Tech missed a go-ahead field goal from 42 yards, the opportunity for a fourth-quarter stunner stayed in play for the Hoos.
Unfortunately, the final moments didn’t go like the last-gasp efforts against Penn State and Miami. Facing a third down in the closing minutes, Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco targeted Tim Smith on a deep out pattern. Tech’s Antone Exum disrupted the route with what looked like a brief hold and then cut through the alley for the interception as the ball wobbled a bit on a windy day in Blacksburg.
“I think that he knew that I knew that he was going to do a corner route, so he kind of bulldozed me just to try to bully me on his route,” Exum told The Roanoke Times. “I just undercut him and the quarterback threw it right to me.”
Mike London’s timeout use frustrated many Hoo fans.
“You can’t get every call, but there’s no doubt in my mind that was a holding call,” Smith told The Daily Progress. “I’ve been playing football for a long time. But you just have to roll with the punches. It didn’t get called.”
With VT taking over at the 24-yard line, the defense needed to post a quick hold and long field goal attempt to set up one last chance for the offense. Instead, Virginia Tech moved the ball into chip-shot range as the clock clicked below 2 minutes. UVa had a pair of timeouts in hand, but elected – inexplicably in most observers’ eyes, including the television broadcast crew – not to use them to stop the dwindling seconds as the Hokies centered the ball for a 29-yard attempt. Virginia finally called both timeouts with 4 seconds remaining in an effort to rattle the kicker, but Cody Journell blasted the game-winning shot right down the middle as time expired to send Tech bowling for the 20th straight year.
The clock management issues continued to have Cavalier fans in a tizzy hours after the final horn, but London defended his thought process.
“I felt that we were playing well defensively and you just have to make a decision of how to save timeouts with seconds left on the clock or hope your defense gets a crack and causes a turnover or knocks them back a little bit, but that didn’t occur,” London said. “You try to play the game there to see if you can get into it at the last second and their kicker did a good job. He made it. Didn’t make the first one, but he made the latter one.”
While that position did little to appease angry Hoos, the team was left to ponder how it squandered a sterling effort from the defense. The Cavaliers held the Hokies to one of their lowest offensive days of the season by allowing 303 yards on the day. Other than the two touchdown drives where UVa ended up on its heels a little bit, the D stood its ground all day long – that included holding VT to a three-and-out after a fumble by Perry Jones on the first drive of the game. Steve Greer led the way with 19 tackles in his final game as a Cavalier, while fellow senior La’Roy Reynolds added 15 stops with 1 sack.
La’Roy Reynolds and Steve Greer teamed up for 34 tackles in their final game as Wahoos.
The defense also put points on the board with a sandwich sack from defensive ends Eli Harold and Jake Snyder that forced a Logan Thomas fumble. Defensive tackle Brent Urban scooped up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone for a 16-yard score that gave UVa the 14-7 lead, its first in this series since the first half of the 2009 meeting. Notably, those 7 points match what the offense has produced in the past two seasons combined against Tech. Urban and Harold each finished with 5 tackles, while Snyder added 4.
“It felt good,” Urban told The Daily Progress. “The ball happened to come my way.”
Of course, the Virginia Tech defense had the Virginia offense locked down too. UVa mustered a meager 217 yards of offense, including 30 yards rushing on 20 attempts. The Cavaliers had just 7 first downs and spent much of the day facing third-and-long situations. Not surprisingly, they converted just 3 of 14 third down attempts on the day. The only bright spot of the day came late in the second quarter when Rocco connected with Smith for a 42-yard touchdown play that tied the score at 7-7. On the out pattern, Smith stepped through a tackle and then used a downfield block from Darius Jennings to easily get into the end zone.
The Cavaliers gave up 2 sacks and committed 2 turnovers too, including the crucial interception from Rocco in the fourth quarter. That left the Wahoos on the wrong end of the turnover margin for the ninth time this season and they tallied a 1-8 record in those games. UVa also finished with 20 points or less for the eighth time this season, finishing 1-7 in those games.
“You had to find a way to move the ball. If you’re not running the ball with success, then you have to do things to use the passing game and get the ball into the hands of the receivers. We knew going in that they were kind of a man blitz team and you saw them. There were a lot of man blitzes, a lot of extra defenders, safeties down in the box to stop the run,” London said. “When you have the opportunities to run crossing routes or run routes that affect man coverage, then you do that. They did a good job of stopping us and kind of making us one dimensional.”