Sidebar: Final Drive Keeps with UVa Identity
By Carlos Valle and Raj Sagar
In this wild and wacky college football season Virginia has established its own identity with its resilient style of play and heart-stopping close games.
Adding another chapter to that tradition, Virginia won another tight, hard-fought game Saturday at Scott Stadium, defeating 21st-ranked Wake Forest 17-16. It was the team’s fifth win this year by two or fewer points, setting an NCAA record.
The win improved UVa to 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the ACC’s Coastal Division, which keeps them in first place heading into next Saturday night’s game at Miami. Wake Forest dropped to 6-3 and 4-2 in the Atlantic Divison.
This game will be remembered for Virginia’s final scoring drive.
With 6:15 left to play in the fourth quarter, the Cavalier offense took the field at the Virginia 44-yard line with one last chance to come away with the win. The drive started off well with sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell showing his versatility by scrambling to evade Wake Forest pressure and then rushing for a first down. On the next play, Sewell hit sophomore Mikell Simpson for a 14-yard gain down to the Wake Forest 32-yard line.
The Cavalier offense was clicking on all cylinders.
Then Sewell threw two incompletions before hooking up with senior tight end Jonathan Stupar for an eight-yard gain setting up fourth and two. With tension running high and the game on the line, the Cavaliers had to stay focused to keep the drive alive.
“Everyone around our organization preaches the importance of maintaining poise and staying focused,” Simpson said. “We know if we keep working hard and playing until the final gun, we have a good chance of things working out for us.
On fourth down, Sewell rolled left and found junior wide receiver Maurice Covington for a 10-yard gain to keep the Cavaliers in the game. Covington’s reception set off a spark for the Virginia offense as Sewell rushed for 11 yards on the ensuing play.
Looking for the go-ahead score, Virginia found itself in a second and goal situation from the one-yard line. With 2:18 left to play in the game, Mikell Simpson followed senior right guard Ian-Yates Cunningham to paydirt.
“It was a power run from one yard out,” Simpson said. “Ian came around and got a great pulling block. I just waited for the hole to open up so I could cut back. From there I knew all I had to do was follow him into the end zone.”
Although the Cavalier offense notched the game winning touchdown, it was the defense that was the workhorse for Virginia all game.
“The defense doesn’t care who they are playing,” said Sewell. “Even if they were facing the New England Patriots, they would be ready. They are a group that never cracks. Today they were on the field for a very long time because we had some trouble moving the ball on offense. They are a group that never gives up and they are the heart of this team.”
Following Simpson’s touchdown, the Orange Crush defense held the Demon Deacons to a long game-winning field goal attempt with two ticks left on the clock. Senior defensive end Chris Long tried to look away as the kick went up.
“I didn’t see it,” Long said. “I was just going to listen. I whipped my head around so fast and by the time the kick was coming down I saw it went wide right. That was just best feeling in the entire world.”
It is a feeling Virginia fans are getting used to this season.