By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In its final ACC football game at Byrd Stadium, UVa lost 27-26 when, in the final seconds, junior Alec Vozenilek’s 42-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right.
For a team in dire need of a victory, the loss would have stung under any circumstances. What made it even more frustrating for the Cavaliers (2-4 overall, 0-2 ACC) was the knowledge that the game never should have come down to a field-goal attempt, Vozenilek’s fifth on this damp day.
“We gotta score more touchdowns,” sophomore quarterback David Watford said.
Six times the Wahoos got in the red zone Saturday, and each time they came away with points. But four of those drives ended with Vozenilek field goals, of 28, 18, 27 and 26 yards, respectively.
The loss to Maryland (5-1, 1-1) was Virginia’s first in College Park since 2005. The Terrapins will join the Big Ten in 2014, and UVa would have loved to have beaten them one final time.
“There’s a lot of opportunities out there that we kind of let pass,” said center Luke Bowanko, a fifth-year senior. “That’s been the theme a little bit down the stretch. You gotta take advantage of those opportunities. They don’t come up very often. The defense and special teams got turnovers, and we weren’t able to capitalize, and it shows on the scoreboard at the end of the game.”
That they totaled 505 yards was little consolation for the `Hoos, who have dropped three straight games since defeating VMI on Sept. 21. They’ll be replaying possessions like the one late in the first quarter when Maryland stopped junior tailback Kevin Parks for no gain on second-and-goal from the 1 and again on third down.
“I think we let it get away,” junior tight end Jake McGee said. “We had the opportunities to punch it in, and we settled for field goal after field goal. We got a couple touchdowns. It was good to see the offense improve, but not enough.”
The defense, which lost All-ACC candidate Brent Urban early in the second quarter, contributed heavily to the loss, too. Maryland, playing without its No. 1 quarterback, senior C.J. Brown, finished with 468 yards. The Terps had 12 plays that went for at least 15 yards apiece, including a 77-yard pickup by tailback Brandon Ross on a screen pass from quarterback Caleb Rowe.
Most damaging, though, was a fourth-quarter breakdown in the secondary. On third-and-22 from Maryland’s 40, with UVa up 26-20, Rowe rolled right and heaved a long pass in the direction of wide receiver Deon Long, who was double-covered by cornerback DreQuan Hoskey and safety Anthony Harris.
“The ball was underthrown,” Hoskey said later, “and I was over top of the guy, and Ant was under, and I think we both just misjudged the ball.”
Long, by contrast, timed his jump perfectly. He came down with the ball at the UVa 13. Two plays later, Maryland scored to go up 27-26.
A pass-interference penalty would have been a better outcome for UVa on Rowe’s Hail Mary, and Hoskey said he considered that while the ball was in the air. “But we were on the guy so much. You play good coverage on him, and I expected one of us to knock the ball down.”
The list of missed opportunities stretches on and on for UVa. Maryland turned the ball over three times, twice on punt returns. The Terps’ final turnover came with 9:01 left and Virginia leading 23-20.
After a Vozenilek punt, the ball brushed against a Maryland player, and long-snapper Matt Fortin recovered for the `Hoos at the Terps’ 17. The next three plays, though, netted only 8 yards for Virginia, and the short drive ended with Vozenilek’s fourth field goal.
“We gotta have a little bit of a killer instinct, and that’s gotta be a touchdown-or-bust drive,” Bowanko said. “When you leave points on the board, you give the other team an opportunity to win the game. That was a prime example of it there.
“It’s frustrating, but all we can do is try to get better. We were making holes, and the execution was better. Need to get points on the board, though. It’s a bottom-line business.”
Virginia revamped its offensive line after losing Oct. 5 to Ball State, moving Bowanko back to center, the position at which he started last season, and replacing him at left guard with redshirt junior Conner Davis, who had missed three games with a hamstring injury.
The line held up well Saturday — Watford was not sacked — and the Cavaliers did not turn the ball over. But they wasted outstanding performances from several players, including McGee, Watford and tailbacks Parks and Khalek Shepherd.
Before leaving the game with an injury on UVa’s final drive, McGee caught eight passes for a career-best 114 yards. He made one reception, along the Virginia sideline, one-handed.
“He was a warrior today,” Virginia coach Mike London said.
Parks carried 28 times for 112 yards and one touchdown, and he also had five catches for 50 yards. Shepherd, who grew up near College Park, added 81 yards on 10 carries. Watford completed 27 of 44 passes for a career-best 263 yards and one TD, a 4-yard dart to McGee on a broken play late in the first half.
“Any loss hurts, no matter what,” Watford said. “We fought hard to the end, and that’s what I’m most proud of with my guys. It was a tough game, but we stayed in there and we battled and we fought. They threw punches, we threw punches back. It was a hard one, just knowing that we didn’t capitalize on the opportunities that we did have.”
After Maryland went up 27-26, a three-and-out followed for UVa. But the Cavaliers’ defense forced a punt, and Watford and Co. got one final chance.
The drive started on Virginia’s 17-yard line with 2:34 left. The home fans did their best to bother the visitors, but Watford stayed cool. His completions of 10 yards (to junior wideout Dominique Terrell), 21 (to junior wideout Darius Jennings), 8 (to junior tight end Zachary Swanson) and 7 (to Parks), combined with a pass-interference penalty on Maryland, helped UVa reach the 28.
From there, however, Virginia took no chances. Parks gained 3 yards on a first-down run, but he picked up only 1 on second down, bringing up third-and-6 from the Maryland 24. On another run, Watford tried to get around left end, but linebacker Cole Farrand dropped him for a 1-yard loss.
“Coach London wanted to just run the clock out and kick the field goal, and I was fine with that,” Watford said. “I probably should have centered the ball on that one run I had instead of taking it as far left as I did … I probably should have centered it in the middle and [given] Voz a better opportunity to kick the ball from straight up.”
Vozenilek, who’s in his second season as UVa’s starting punter, took over on extra points and field goals, too, after Ian Frye got hurt Sept. 28 at Pittsburgh.
“We have complete faith in Alec,” Bowanko said. “He did a great job all game. He’s done a great job since he stepped into that role. We’re inside his range there and tried to give him a chance to win the game.
“It’s football. There’s a lot of plays on that field today, and it doesn’t come down to one play at all.”
Vozenilek said his range on field goals is 50 yards, so the distance on his final attempt did not worry him. “Just pushed it right,” he said.
And so ended what will be, at least for the foreseeable future, Virginia’s final game at Byrd Stadium.
“I’m very proud of the team, very proud of the effort,” London said. “Obviously it wasn’t good enough to win the game, but a lot of things went on that we improved upon. And that’s what we’re looking to do. That was the aim, that’s the goal. But obviously we gotta do better. We have to do better in order to give us an opportunity to win at the very end.”
BIG BLOW: With 11:52 left in the second quarter, Virginia’s starting defensive tackles, Urban and David Dean, teamed up to sack Rowe. Urban injured his right ankle on the play, however, and did not return to the game.
“That definitely hurts,” said another fifth-year senior, Jake Snyder, who split time at end and tackle after Urban got hurt.
“He’s our best defensive player. That’s the only way to really put it. He’s been a force this year. No one’s been able to stop him. He’s a guy that everyone can rally around, and it hurts to see him go down. He was playing through injuries already, and then to see something like that happen, it hurts to see as a teammate and as a friend, but I know he’ll be back soon. He’ll be back ready to go, and it’s next-man-up mentality around here. That’s what we have. Donte [Wilkins] and Mike Moore came in, and they both stepped up and played well. We just gotta get the job one.”
HOMESTAND: UVa’s next three games are at Scott Stadium, starting Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against ACC rival Duke (4-2, 0-2). The Blue Devils have won four of the past five games in a series the Cavaliers lead 33-31.
A season ago, Duke humbled Virginia 42-17 in Durham, N.C.
Duke thumped Navy 35-7 at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.