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Cavaliers Hand Seminoles First-Ever ACC Loss

By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 4, 1995

It was a scene to savor, a wave of Virginia fans flowing from the stands and the grassy hill beyond one end zone toward heroes at the opposite goal line who stopped mighty Florida State inches from the winning touchdown on the last play of the game.

Emotions on the Scott Stadium field kept building as the enormity of 18-point underdog Virginia's 33-28 Atlantic Coast Conference victory Thursday over the second-ranked Seminoles began to sink in. And few would disagree with university president John T. Casteen III, who said just before joining the dressing-room celebration: "This is the biggest win in Virginia history."

Moments after Florida State running back Warrick Dunn was stopped about a finger length shy of the end zone when the Seminoles (7-1, 5-1) sent him up the middle from the 6, those still in the stands could not see a blade of grass on the field for all the people jumping on it, hugging on it, yelling on it. The entire student body seemed to be there; the entire town seemed to be there. One half-expected to see late arrivals from Columbus, Ohio, and Pasadena, Calif., carried by equally strong passions.

Ohio State and the Rose Bowl were among the immediate beneficiaries of Virginia's upset. The fourth-ranked Buckeyes have a chance to vault over both Florida State and third-ranked Florida, if the Buckeyes remain unbeaten and the Seminoles win the Nov. 25 collision with the Gators in Gainesville.

If the Buckeyes win their remaining regular season games and are ranked either No. 1 or No. 2, the Rose Bowl will have a situation similar to last year's with Penn State: an unbeaten Big Ten team with a chance at the national championship.

Thursday's game was worth getting excited over, with the teams combining for 1,044 yards, Virginia running back Tiki Barber producing 311 all-purpose yards and quarterbacks Danny Kanell of Florida State and Mike Groh of Virginia combining for five touchdown passes.

There was more: a first half that featured four scoring plays of 38 yards or more, and Virginia (7-3, 6-1) taking a 27-21 lead. For the game, 10 players had at least one reception of 20 or more yards -- and Virginia's Rafael Garcia kicked field goals of 35, 48, 41 and 35 yards.

Florida State had not lost during its first 29 games in the ACC. Fact is, the Seminoles had trailed at the half just once during that run -- to Maryland last season in a game Florida State eventually won, 52-20. Of the 300 minutes in their prior five ACC games this season, the Seminoles had the lead for all but 4 minutes 40 seconds.

And, yes, what almost surely was the topper: Earlier this season Virginia had lost to Michigan and Texas by a point when each scored on the last play of the game. And when Dunn started up the middle with four seconds left, some Cavaliers fans could not only see a hole, but a bit of terrible irony developing as well.

Virginia had lost to Michigan on a 15-yard pass. It had lost to Texas on a 50-yard field goal into the wind. And now it had a chance to lose to Florida State on what seemed a dumb-call run.

"I thought Dunn had more than a crack," Virginia Coach George Welsh said during a teleconference call yesterday. "That's what I saw on the field. Then it looked like he stumbled a bit, before the contact {by Virginia defensive backs Anthony Poindexter and Adrian Burnim}. It looked like his head was over {the goal line}, but the ball never made it."

Dunn was running, in part, because Virginia had just three defensive linemen on the field. That eight-players-in-coverage alignment helped contain the Seminoles' passing attack for much of the second half, but is vulnerable to runs.

Luckily, the Cavaliers' defense had practiced during the week for just such a situation: Dunn lined up next to Kanell in shotgun formation and taking the snap from center.

Defenders had been told to watch Dunn's eyes, to see if they were on the Florida State center instead of the Virginia linebackers. According to Virginia defensive coordinator Rick Lantz, linebacker Skeet Jones saw Dunn tipping the play and yelled to his teammates.

"Every once in a while you get lucky," Lantz said.

At game's end, the goal posts were torn down -- and about 50 students carried one on a 15-minute walk around campus. Others mocked the Seminoles' chant.

"I don't know if too many people slept last night," safety Percy Ellsworth said later in the teleconference call. Celebratory T-shirts already were on sale by mid-morning.

Looking back, Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden saw his team's chances of a national championship diminish dramatically. He was gracious in defeat, saying of Virginia: "That's a good football team. They could easily be 10-0."

Virginia's third loss was by five points, to North Carolina on the road. That one league setback made the goal against Florida State obvious for the players. As Barber put it: "We dubbed it our ACC championship."

Welsh called the victory his biggest in a career that includes nine years at Navy and almost 14 with the Cavaliers. The coach said he got to sleep at about 3 a.m. and woke up three hours later.

His first thought? "What am I going to do against Maryland {in just eight days}?"

Special correspondent Douglas Braunsdorf in Charlottesville contributed to this report.

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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