Sept. 13, 2014
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Long after fireworks shot into the sky to signal a University of Virginia victory Saturday afternoon, fans lingered on the field at Scott Stadium, many of them pulling aside players who passed by and posing for selfies with them.
Virginia’s veterans had experienced similar moments in 2011 and ’12. Younger players such as second-year tailback Taquan Mizzell, however, marveled at the scene that followed UVa’s 23-21 comeback victory over No. 21 Louisville on Military Appreciation Day at Scott Stadium.
“That’s my first time ever experiencing something like that,” Mizzell said later. “That was one of the best feelings ever, seeing everybody so proud of us and happy.”
His older teammates were not immune to the moment. The victory ended a 10-game losing streak in ACC play for the Wahoos (2-1, 1-0), who had dropped 11 in a row to Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, and senior linebacker Henry Coley was among the players overcome by emotion afterward.
“I’m in the locker room crying,” Coley told reporters, “and I’ve never cried, even when I played my last high school game … It was emotional because it was something big lifted off my shoulders.”
Imagine how his head coach felt.
“It’s a long time coming,” Mike London said. “What a great day for Virginia football.”
Not since Nov. 19, 2011, when the `Hoos stunned No. 23 Florida State in Tallahassee, had they knocked off a ranked opponent. Virginia finished 8-5 that season but dipped to 4-8 in 2012 and 2-10 last season. And so the victory over ACC newcomer Louisville (2-1, 1-1) was one to savor for a team picked to finish last in the Coastal Division.
“It was a very emotional moment for myself and a lot of guys on the team,” said All-America safety Anthony Harris, who had his first interception of the season Saturday. “We strive and try to work hard and get better each week. Some weeks we come up short, and for a second there it looked like it was going to go the other way, but we just kept battling, kept fighting and we ended up winning the ball game.”
Junior kicker Ian Frye’s 47-yard field goal put the Cavaliers ahead 20-7 with 2:56 left in the third quarter, and they appeared in control. But the Cardinals, who had been unable to penetrate UVa’s defense for much of the game, responded with back-to-back touchdowns, the second of which followed a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Coley, to take a 21-20 lead with 6:59 to play.
“Obviously I didn’t agree with the call,” London said, “but it was made, and you move on and go on to the next play. Again, that was one of the pivotal plays. But it was a bounce-back we had to make, and I thought the guys did a good job of responding to that.”
On a possession that began on its 21-yard line, Virginia managed only one first down before having to punt with 5:17 remaining. Moments later, the Cavalier had the ball back. James Quick, after nearly colliding with a teammate, muffed Alec Vozenilek’s punt, and reserve safety Kelvin Rainey recovered for the `Hoos at the Louisville 25.
“About time it happens to somebody else,” London said, smiling. “I’ve seen that happen to us a couple times … You earn what you get, and sometimes you get lucky with things that happen in football games.”
The drive that followed included two false-start penalties and a broken-play run by quarterback Greyson Lambert, but it ended happily for UVa. With 3:42 left, Frye connected from 42 yards to put the Cavaliers back on top. That made Frye 3 for 3 on the day and 6 for 7 for the season.
“He did an amazing job,” wide receiver Miles Gooch said. “I’m so proud of that boy. Frye, he did great all day.”
Lambert said: “Ian Frye, he’s been the clutchest kicker for us, and we’re just so happy he’s on our team.”
With a chance to regain the lead in the final minutes, Louisville took over at its 13-yard line. On first down, outside linebacker Max Valles, a towering presence at 6-foot-5, batted down a pass for the fourth time in the game.
On second down, defensive end Eli Harold blew through the Louisville line and sacked Will Gardner for a 10-yard loss. Harold then flashed the L sign in honor of his friend Chris Long, the former UVa great who was watching from the press box.
Before the game, Harold had exchanged text messages with Long, a St. Louis Rams defensive end who’s recovering from ankle surgery.
“I told him, `When I get my sack, I’m going to dedicate it to you,’ ” Harold said.
On third down, Gardner threw an incompletion, and the Cardinals had to punt from their end zone.
They never got the ball back. On first down from the Cardinals’ 47-yard line, Mizzell gained 14 yards on a jet sweep around left end.
“When I heard the call, I was pretty surprised,” said Mizzell, who finished with 40 yards and five carries. “But I was like, Coach is giving me an opportunity, I’ve got to make the best of it right now for our team.”
Back-to-back runs by senior tailback Kevin Parks netted 8 yards, after which Louisville used its final timeout with 1:06 left. The Cardinals knew what was coming, but they couldn’t stop it. On third-and-2, Parks followed his linemen for a 4-yard gain, and the Cavaliers assumed the victory formation for the game’s final play.
Overall, the `Hoos averaged only 2.8 yards on 40 carries Saturday, but their running game came through when it mattered most.
“It takes all four quarters,” Parks said. “Just because they’re stopping us in the first couple of quarters doesn’t mean the game is over. You keep driving to the end, and that’s what we did today.”
On an afternoon when Virginia’s defense forced three turnovers and held Louisville to 282 yards, its offense wasn’t particularly productive. But the Cavaliers, who totaled 285 yards, had several standouts, including Gooch, a fifth-year senior, and Lambert, a redshirt sophomore.
After Louisville marched 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first possession, Lambert hit Gooch for a 50-yard completion on UVa’s first play from scrimmage. It was the longest completion of Lambert’s career and the longest reception of Gooch’s.
That drive ended with a lost fumble, but in the final minute of the first quarter Lambert lofted a 15-yard touchdown pass to the 6-3 Gooch, who timed his jump perfectly in the end zone.
Gooch finished with four catches for 78 yards — both career highs — and one TD.
“To be able to get a conference win is great, and to be able to really help my team in a major way, I can’t even explain how good it feels,” Gooch said. “It’s amazing.”
After Lambert threw an interception with 10:15 left in the second quarter, Matt Johns took over at quarterback for the Cavaliers. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild had said during the week that Johns would play against Louisville, as the redshirt sophomore had in UVa’s first two games.
This time, though, Johns wasn’t as effective. He had an ill-advised pass intercepted at the Louisville 1-yard line late in the second quarter, and the Cavaliers’ coaches went back to Lambert to start the second half.
Leading 10-7, Virginia received the third-quarter kickoff, and a 69-yard drive followed. It ended with a 10-yard run by Lambert, who, after a slick play-action fake, followed fullback Connor Wingo-Reeves to the end zone, untouched.
To start the second half with a TD drive is “definitely a big deal, and that’s what we were kind of preaching in the locker room: `We really need this drive to kind of open up and get that extended lead,’ ” Lambert said.
The Cardinals sacked Lambert three times in the second half, but that didn’t faze him. He finished 13-of-24 passing for 162 yards and one TD.
Lambert’s “performance today was one that gave us a chance to win the football game,” said London, who praised Lambert’s command of the huddle.
“There’s a leadership quality that your signal-callers have to have,” London said, “and the things that he showed during the spring and during the summer kind of became manifested [themselves] today in his operation of running the team.”
Parks, who like Lambert is a team captain, saw it too.
“He stepped up,” Parks said. “When people were down, he was in the huddle [saying], `Let’s go. Let’s go. Stay in this. We got this. We got this.’ He made runs. He took hits on blitzes and [kept getting back up]. That’s the kind of stuff I want to see from my quarterback.”
Lambert said: “When things are going well, you gotta make sure everybody’s still focused and wants to put the pedal to the metal. And when things are going bad, you gotta keep everybody level-headed and focused and up and ready to go, to get back out there and score.”
That’s exactly what happened Saturday, and now the `Hoos have their first two-game winning streak since 2012.
“I want it for the players,” London said. “A lot of things have gone on. We haven’t been successful, but at the same time, we have a group of guys that say, `Coach, we are unified, we are committed to this program, we want to win regardless of who we’re playing, where we’re playing, the obstacles or the odds.’ ”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE: Gooch, a converted quarterback, came into the season with career totals of three catches for 32 yards and one touchdown. His 2014 totals through three games: seven receptions for 98 yards and one TD.
“He was a guy that was contemplating whether or not to come back for his fifth year,” London said. “He’s a selfless individual that just made himself into a guy that just tries hard, works hard, and became a starter for us.
“His selfless attitude [spread] throughout the team, in terms of whatever your job, whatever your responsibility, do it because it’s going to be credited to the team, and that’s all that matters. It’s about the team.
“And when you have an older guy like that who signifies that this is what I am, this is what I’m going to do for the team, then other people take notice. I believe he had a career day for himself today, and it was great to see him have some success.”
More important than his individual performance, Gooch said, was the team’s victory.
“I think it’s a big confidence boost,” he said. “Now, we’ve done this before and now we can keep doing it.
“It feels great. This is a feeling that we haven’t had in a long time, and us being older guys, we definitely know how it feels to be on that end where you’re coming up short every weekend. So a lot of us were in the locker room crying. It’s an amazing feeling.”
UP NEXT: After three straight games at Scott Stadium, Virginia (2-1) travels to Provo, Utah, to face No. 25 BYU (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.
ESPN will televise the rematch of last year’s season-opener, which UVa rallied to win 19-16 at Scott Stadium.
“We’re going to enjoy [the win over Louisville] for a little bit,” London said, “and then know that we got another task, we got another journey, we have another step of the ladder to climb.”
BYU is coming off a Thursday night win over Houston, which made the game interesting before falling 33-23.
The Cavaliers lead the series with the Cougars 3-1, having won in 1987, 1999 and 2013. BYU’s victory came in 2000 at Scott Stadium.