Virginia Improves To 3-0 In ACC

Cedric Peerman
Virginia running back Cedric Peerman sheds a tackler as he reaches out to get a first down. Peerman alone out-rushed Georgia Tech, tallying 138 yards on the ground. (Andrew Shurtleff - AP)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 23, 2007

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Sept. 22 -- Jameel Sewell hopped off the Virginia bench, jammed his helmet over his head and jogged onto the field. "We're going to go score," he thought. "A touchdown. Not a field goal. A touchdown."

The Cavaliers had just recovered a muffed punt on the Georgia Tech 26-yard line. Sewell led a team that, three weeks prior to Saturday, had been considered a lost cause after taking a beating in Wyoming. Now, down by two points in the fourth quarter, Virginia could take the lead with a field goal.

But Sewell did not want a field goal.

These Cavaliers, it seems, are not ones to settle, not even when their season is pronounced over after one week. On Saturday, they served notice that the Wyoming debacle is history with a 28-23 victory over Georgia Tech made possible by Sewell's fourth-quarter touchdown pass. With another 100-yard rushing game from running back Cedric Peerman and another awesome performance by defensive end Chris Long, Virginia announced itself a factor in the ACC Coastal Division, which it now leads with a 3-0 record.

"We might be a little bit better than most people gave us credit for," Coach Al Groh said.

The game turned with nine minutes remaining. After leading 21-7 in the first quarter, Virginia had stagnated and allowed the Yellow Jackets to take a 23-21 lead in the fourth quarter. Georgia Tech gave itself a chance to seal the game by forcing Virginia to punt from its 31-yard line.

Aaron Clark, who lines up next to the long snapper, bolted downfield ahead of every other Cavalier. As the first person down, Clark was not supposed to make the tackle, but was supposed to make the returner, Andrew Smith, choose which way to go. Clark had done the job twice earlier, and it frustrated him -- all he could do was watch Smith charge past him. But this time, the ball hit off Smith's chest and bobbled in his hands.

"You just start salivating," Clark said. "You just want to tear his head off."

Before Smith could corral the ball, Clark leveled him. Clark drove Smith backward five yards, but the ball remained on the 26-yard line, waiting to be recovered. A fleet of players from both sides raced toward it. The nearest Cavalier was Trey Womack, a redshirt freshman.

"I was thinking, 'Man, this is it,' " Womack said.

Womack dived at the ball, and a cavalcade of players followed. Clark had heard the crowd roar when he drilled Smith. Then silence -- the wait to see which team earned possession. When Clark, still smothering Smith, heard a second roar, he knew the Cavaliers had recovered.

In the press box, offensive coordinator Mike Groh sensed the Yellow Jackets, in full control moments earlier, suddenly were reeling. He called for wideout Staton Jobe to run a "glance" pattern, a narrower version of a post. If successful, the route would score a touchdown.

"Try to put the dagger in their hearts," Sewell said. "Try to knock them out, and take the spirit out of them."

As Sewell backpedaled five steps, he saw Georgia Tech's safety drop back. "I got a little excited," he said. He knew Georgia Tech cornerback Avery Roberson was alone on Jobe. "It was the perfect coverage."

Sewell ripped a spiral toward Jobe's numbers. Jobe, a redshirt freshman walk-on elevated to the No. 1 wide receiver position because of injuries, had dropped both passes thrown his way earlier in the game.

"I can't keep digging myself into this ditch," he thought. "I got to crawl out of it."

This would be his next chance, an opportunity to atone. With Roberson a step behind him, Jobe snared the pass and walked into the end zone with the winning score.

Virginia's defense stiffened the rest of the game, the key play coming when Long, crawling, sacked Taylor Bennett on fourth and six from the Virginia 21-yard line.

Long also began a pivotal play in the first quarter. Two plays after Virginia's second touchdown, Long batted a pass high in the air. Bennett swatted at it, but the ball bounced off linebacker Clint Sintim's face mask. "It was like pinball," Long said.

The ball bounded into the hands of defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who scampered 25 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead. Scott Stadium erupted, but Long knew some of the roaring fans were the same who doubted the Cavaliers earlier this season.

"I would be lying to you if I said I didn't think about that all the time," Long said. "When fans think you're pretty good, you've got ignore it. When fans think you're no good, I like to pay attention to that."

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