By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Two games remain, so the season is not over for UVa’s football team.
But the Cavaliers’ slim hopes of becoming bowl-eligible — a feat that would have required Al Groh’s team to close the regular season with three consecutive victories — were extinguished Saturday.
Boston College, in its first visit to Scott Stadium, held off Virginia 14-10 in an ACC game before a crowd of 44,324 on a splendid fall day.
“It could have gone either way, and it went BC’s way today,” UVa defensive end Nate Collins said.
And so the Wahoos (2-4, 3-7), who went 5-7 in 2006 and again in ’08, are assured of finishing with a losing record for the third time in four seasons.
“That hurts, man,” said senior quarterback Jameel Sewell. “It hurts a lot.”
In the final minute, Virginia drove to the Eagles’ 12-yard line. But on fourth-and-1, Sewell, after taking a shotgun snap, couldn’t find an open receiver and chose to run.
BC defenders stopped him near the 11. The Eagles then received what appeared to be an favorable spot. The line judge placed the ball about six inches short of the first down, and a video review upheld that spot, the protests of Groh and the UVa fans notwithstanding.
The final drive, said BC’s first-year coach, Frank Spaziani, a former UVa assistant, was “about who was going to get tired in a game of attrition. That was what was going through my mind – who was going to be the hero?”
The heroes wore white jerseys Saturday. The Eagles (4-2, 7-3) took over with 17 seconds left, and the ‘Hoos watched helplessly as the clock ran out.
“I thought I had it,” Sewell said of the first down. “Looks can be deceiving.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers thought they had stopped BC on fourth-and-goal from the 1. An official, however, signaled that true freshman Dave Shinskie had scored on a quarterback sneak, and a video review upheld the call.
“Obviously they call it a game of inches,” Groh said. “It was close enough to review the Boston College touchdown, and it was close enough to review the last play of the game there. For probably less than a total of six inches in the game, that was the difference in the two teams, but that turned out to be enough.”
In 2007, Virginia won five games by two points or fewer, and Sewell frequently sparkled on dramatic fourth-quarter drives.
“It sucks being on the other side of it today,” Collins said. “It’s just one of those things where you’re watching from the sideline and just hoping that we might get the right play call and have things happen our way, and they didn’t at the end.”
The drive started auspiciously for UVa, though, evoking memories of ’07.
Sewell, a 6-3, 225-pound lefthander, mixed in a 12-yard scramble for a first down with completions to wideouts Dontrelle Inman, Vic Hall and Kris Burd and running back Rashawn Jackson.
“We were a little nervous,” BC linebacker Miike Morrissey said. “They had gone all the way down the field, but we knew they needed a touchdown. Once we’re backed up to the line, we’re tough down there.”
The fourth-down play was designed to be a pass, but Groh had no complaints with Sewell’s decision to pull the ball down and run.
“I don’t second-guess the player. He’s one of our really, really intense competitors and gave it everything he had,” Groh said. “I appreciate what he did just to get us down there in the first place.”
The Cavaliers were penalized eight times for 97 yards. Thrice they were called for pass interference, and two of those calls extended drives that ended with BC touchdowns.
Most costly to UVa, however, was a block-in-the-back call against Mike Parker. That negated what would have been a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown by senior Vic Hall with 9:40 left in the third quarter.
The home fans cheered wildly as Hall raced toward the end zone, but UVa’s special-teams coordinator, Ron Prince, was not so happy. He saw the yellow flag lying on the field. Prince walked out to meet Parker and made sure the junior cornerback saw it too.
“We made a lot of progress with our team today,” Groh said. “We’ve been working for 10 months to get to this point, to have a performance as one like that. Unfortunately, we did do some things that made it more difficult on ourselves.”
In their previous three games, all losses, the ‘Hoos had been outscored 114-43, so clearly they were more competitive Saturday. Still, their offense failed to score a TD for the second time in the past four games.
Sewell threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted late in the first half, but he finished with a solid line: 21 for 41 for 221 yards. Given his health and general lack of preparation, it was an admirable performance.
“Thursday was the only day that Jameel has practiced the past two weeks,” Groh said.
A shoulder injury kept Sewell out of Virginia’s game at ACC rival Miami last weekend, and junior Marc Verica went the whole way in the 52-17 loss. Verica was expected to start against BC, too, but UVa’s medical staff learned Wednesday night that he’d come out of the Miami game with a concussion.
Sewell was listed as questionable on the injury report UVa released Thursday night, but with Verica out, he stepped forward.
“Under the circumstances, I thought it was one of his most courageous and one of his best efforts here at Virginia. To be able to do that against a team that has tested a lot of quarterbacks, and to do it essentially without practice for two weeks says a lot about him.”
UVa surrendered a second-quarter touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Shinskie to wideout Justin Jarvis, but overall Groh’s defense played well.
The Cavaliers forced two turnovers. On the first, junior cornerback Ras-I Dowling ended the game’s opening drive by picking off a Shinskie pass in the end zone. On the second, outside linebacker Cam Johnson hurried Shinskie into a pass that senior cornerback Chris Cook intercepted and returned 58 yards for a touchdown.
It was the third touchdown of Cook’s college career and the second on an interception return.
Drew Jarrett’s extra point made it 7-7 with 5:41 left in the third, and UVa took its first lead with a second left in the quarter on Robert Randolph’s 38-yard field goal.
That lead lasted little more than seven minutes. And now the ‘Hoos face the daunting task of pulling together for their final two games, next weekend at No. 24 Clemson (5-2, 7-3) and Nov. 28 against No. 20 Virginia Tech (4-2, 7-3) at Scott Stadium.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult to do so,” Sewell said. “Right now we just have to play with some pride, not give in. Our hopes were getting bowl-eligible, and they’re gone. All we really have is these last two games.”
Virginia will finish with losing records in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981 and ’82.
“A lot of people are going to try to say that we have nothing to play for, but we have everything to play for,” Collins said. “We have to play for ourselves. For our seniors, this is the last two games. For some of us, it may be the last two games ever being on the field. You never know what’s going to happen. Tomorrow isn’t promised.”
UP NEXT: Virginia (2-4, 3-7) visits Atlantic Division leader Clemson (5-2, 7-3) next Saturday. The starting time will be announced Sunday. The Tigers have won five games in a row.
The Tigers lead their series with ‘Hoos 36-8-1. A season ago at Scott Stadium, Clemson beat UVa 13-3.
ACT OF CONTRITION: Sewell was the last UVa player to enter the interview room Saturday night. Before he took questions from media members, Sewell addressed his behavior in the game’s final seconds.
After seeing the spot he received on his fourth-down carry, Sewell had made his displeasure known to the officials.
“I want to apologize to the officiating staff,” he said. “I lost it a little bit, and I want to apologize. You guys were doing your job. I just lost my cool. Much respect to you guys. You were doing your job. I should have just done my job a little better.”
POOR DECISION: With about 1:45 left in the second quarter and UVa trailing 7-0, Sewell dropped back to pass on second-and-10 from the BC 32.
He had room to run but, mindful of his injured shoulder, opted to pass. Sewell’s target, Joe Torchia, was open around the 5, but the pass sailed over the junior tight end’s head and was picked off.
“I definitely have to be careful with the shoulder, the running, but it was just a missed throw,” Sewell said. “I overthrew a wide-open guy. I should have done the smart thing and run the ball and got what I got.”
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME: Redshirt freshman Billy Schautz, who was sidelined early in the season by a knee injury suffered during training camp, returned a blocked punt for a touchdown at Miami last weekend.
Against BC, the 6-4, 240-pound outside linebacker got his first career sack.
“Slowly, my leg’s been getting better and better, and these past two or three weeks it’s been almost 100 percent,” Schautz said. “I finally got my shot, and I’m trying to take advantage of it.”