'Hoos Make It Worth the Wait in Opener
Sept. 1, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Thunder boomed, lightning flashed, sheets of rain fell, play stopped for 129 minutes, thousands of fans left, thousands more stayed to the finish, Mike London lost his voice, and his football team rallied for an improbable victory in a non-conference game that ended about five-and-a-half hours after its 3:30 p.m. start.
Other than that, not much happened Saturday at Scott Stadium.
“That was amazing, right there,” London whispered into the microphone at his postgame press conference. “I’m just so proud of this team.”
In the season-opener for both teams, the final score was UVa 19, BYU 16. The Virginia fans who stayed to the end did not regret sticking it out, and their vocal presence was noted by London’s players.
After a game in which the Cougars ran 93 plays, sophomore cornerback Maurice Canady, who led the Cavaliers with 13 tackles, was asked if he was tired.
“You could say that,” Canady said, smiling, “but with all that energy that the crowd brings, you can’t even feel it.”
During the weather delay — when he still had his voice — London had gone on the radio and urged fans to return to the stadium when it re-opened, “because I knew the BYU fans weren’t going anywhere,” he said later. “It was great to see them come back. I appreciate the fans out there for coming back and hanging in there with us.”
The die-hards witnessed a finish they won’t soon forget. The Cougars, leading 16-12, had the ball on their 34-yard line when, on third-and-6, quarterback Taysom Hill dropped back to pass with about 2:50 to play.
His target was tailback Jamaal Williams. But Hill’s pass glanced off Williams’ hands and into the arms of UVa safety Anthony Harris, who returned the interception 6 yards and then, when a BYU player tried to tackle him, lateraled the ball to junior middle linebacker Henry Coley, to the amazement of nearly everyone in the stadium.
“That was like one of those 3-pointers back in high school when I pulled up at the line and the coach is like, `No, no, no, no,’ and then I make it, and he’s happy,” UVa offensive guard Luke Bowanko said. “But that was insane. I was like, `What are they doing?’ and then it worked out great.”
Harris “looked at me, I looked at him, and then he did it,” Coley said. “It’s just that chemistry, I guess.”
Coley, who played tight end at Virginia Beach’s Bayside High, rumbled 27 yards to the BYU 13.
“As an offense, at that moment we said we just have to capitalize,” sophomore quarterback David Watford said after his first college start. “The defense had played a hell of a game all game, Anthony Harris, he played his butt off, and we just said at that moment we have to capitalize and put points on the board, because we were kind of leaving the defense out to dry as an offense, not scoring, not capitalizing on certain events.”
A blocked punt by Harris — who else? — had set up UVa’s first touchdown, an 11-yard pass in the third quarter from Watford to junior wide receiver Darius Jennings, who barely got a foot down before going out of bounds on the right sideline. This time, on the first play after Harris’ interception, junior tailback Kevin Parks, contained by BYU’s 3-4 defense to that point, bulled his way into the end zone with 2:36 remaining.
“I wasn’t going to be denied,” Parks said.
Sophomore Ian Frye’s extra point made it 19-16, and then it was up to Virginia’s defense. Against BYU’s no-huddle spread offense, new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s charges had already forced 11 punts, intercepted a pass, recorded a safety and made three sacks. And now UVa’s defense delivered again.
First the Cavaliers, who used five defensive backs on most plays, forced the Cougars to turn the ball over on downs. And then, on the game’s final series, after a three-and-out by UVa, Hill completed only one pass before time ran out.
“It was definitely a challenge, because we knew they were going to be up-tempo,” Coley said. “It was a two-minute offense. But we bowed our backs and we came out with the victory.”
Hill completed only 13 of 40 passes. “At the end of the day Virginia made one more play than we did,” he said. “It’s a tough way to lose a football game.”
For the Wahoos, naturally, the emotions were different.
“That’s a team win right there,” Coley shouted in the locker room. “We won together.”
The `Hoos are now 4-0 in season-openers under London. The other three, though, were against teams from the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.
“Especially with the schedule we have this year, this win, it’s the biggest thing that we could ask for, especially in the fashion that we got it,” Bowanko said. “You like to win big, but it’s good to get the confidence to know that no matter what the situation, we had the ability to come through at the end.”
Heroes abounded for the `Hoos, from Frye, who ended the first half with a 53-yard field goal that made it 7-3, to junior Alec Vozenilek, who averaged 41.3 yards on his career-high 13 punts, to junior Dominique Terrell, who had a career-long 35-yard punt return, to sophomore defensive end Eli Harold, whose 3.5 tackles for loss included two sacks.
And then, of course, there was Harris, who showed why Tenuta raves about his football instincts. A junior who graduated from L.C. Bird High in the Richmond area, Harris finished with 11 tackles, including a sack, his second career interception and his first blocked punt. BYU had not had a punt blocked since 2006. Harris also broke up a pass.
“Ant had a remarkable game that’s probably going to go down in history for UVa,” Coley said.
When Hill fumbled the ball and recovered it in the end zone, the safety put UVa up 12-7 with 2:38 left in the third quarter. The ball went back to the Cavaliers, but they couldn’t capitalize, and midway through the final quarter BYU drove 92 yards for a touchdown that made it 13-12. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, but UVa junior Khalek Shepherd fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and the Cougars recovered. Virginia’s defense stiffened again, however, and held BYU to a field goal that made it 16-12 with 5:02 remaining.
“After that Khalek fumble, guys were down,” Parks said, “and I just said, `Stay in this game. We’re going to figure out a way to win this game,’ and it happened. The defense made a big play, and we capitalized on it.
“We fought to the end. We fought to the end, and we got the W.”
BYU, which played without its star wide receiver, Cody Hoffman, who had a hamstring injury, had won its previous six season-openers.
“That’s a very good football team,” London said, “and to have a win like that, in our opening game, against a well-coached team, it’s a tremendous boost for this team, and we’re looking forward to the next game. We’re happy now, but we can’t be satisfied.”
Watford said: “Something like this really helps our confidence and our momentum going into next week. We’ll celebrate it tonight, and tomorrow it’s on to Oregon.”
In his first appearance since 2011 — he redshirted last season — Watford completed 18 of 32 passes for 114 yards and one TD. He generally made good decisions but early in the second quarter threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off.
“David could do better,” London said, and Watford agreed.
“It’s a lot we need to work on,” Watford said “It’s a lot I personally need to work on. The offense, we were solid, but there’s more we need to do, and there’s more we’re going to do.”
NOTHING TO IT: Frye’s 53-yarder tied for third-longest in program history and gave the `Hoos a shot of momentum heading into halftime.
“I told him after the game that that win is his as much as anyone’s,” Bowanko said. “That’s huge, him nailing that. Players gotta make plays, and that’s his role on the team, and I’m proud of him, and hopefully that gives him the confidence to keep moving forward.”
Frye was 3 for 5 on field goals last season, but his primary duty in 2012 was kickoffs. His range is about 55 yards, he said Saturday, so before the final play of the second quarter, when the coaches “asked if it was possible for me to make it, I told them it sure was. I went in there and [holder] Matt Johns looked up at me and said, `You got this,’ and I just kept my head down and swung through the ball and saw it go through the uprights.”
WAITING GAME: At 4:11 p.m., with lightning in the vicinity, the game was stopped. The teams were sent to their locker rooms, and the stands at Scott Stadium were cleared.
At 6:09 p.m., fans were finally allowed to return to their seats, and the game resumed at 6:20.
“That’s unprecedented for us,” Bowanko said of the weather delay. “We’ve never had that in a game-day situation. But we were able to stay loose. No one was too overanxious.
“We just sat around talking to each other, joking around. We kept it loose, and it worked out.”
London said: “I just think these guys were ready, they were hungry to play today, regardless of how long the game went.”
UP NEXT: No. 3 Oregon visits Scott Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday. The Ducks opened the season by crushing Nicholls State 66-3 in Eugene, Ore.
UVa and Oregon have never met in football.
For ticket information, call (800) 542-8821, visit www.VirginiaSports.com/tickets, or stop by the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office at Bryant Hall in Scott Stadium.