Virginia came within 45 seconds of ending its seven-game losing streak today but had to settle for a tie after failing to combat some unorthodox coaching strategy by Virginia Tech's Jimmy Sharpe.
Sharpe, whose job is in jeopardy, went against normal tactics and chose to play for a tie, instead of a win, in the fourth quarter against his undermanned opponent. He wound up getting a 14-14 deadlock, but admitted that the outcome "leaves me empty, empty. I feel strange."
Virginia felt worse. The Cavaliers saw Tech, a 20-point favorite, wiped out a 14-3 deficit in the last eight minutes by combining a 56-yard field goal, a 70-yard touchdown march and a two-point conversion on a play Virginia knew was coming before the snap. Tech is now 1-3-1.
Instead of taking a 1-5 record into next week's Wake Forest game, the Cavaliers are 0-5-1 and stil l searching for what coach Dick Bestwick described as "the big play at the big moment."
"Oh, am I disappoint," said Bestwick. "Here was a team we knew we could beat. But there comes a time in life when you have to say, 'By God, we are going to get it done.' We haven't reached that stage yet."
At least Virginia did find a quarterback, Chip Mark, and some semblance of an offense today. The Cavaliers had scored only one touchdown this year, but Mark, a junior who had never before taken a snap from center in a varsity game, directed them to two touchdown in a most impressive manner.
But his performance was overshadowed by Tech's last-quarter heroics, which began when Sharpe faced fourth and seven at the Virginia 38 with his team trailing, 14-3.
Instead of going for a first down, Sharpe decided to let Paul Engle try a 56-yard field goal. Sharpe's reasoning: "Well, if he makes it, then I hope we can get the ball and score again and get two points and then get it back. Yeah, I know that's a lot to do in eight minutes."
Engle made the kick - "That shows you the kind of luck we have," said Bestwick - and then tech got the ball back at 4:13 left after a holding penalty stopped a Virginia drive.
Bestwick described that penalty which came on third and one, as the turning point of the game. Tech can say the same thing about any of five pass completions by quarterback David Lamie on the ensuing 70-yard scoring march that tied things up.
Lamie, who had completed only four of 10 before the drive, abandoned Tech's wishbone offense and became a dropback passer. Virginia tried to put pressure on him with a strong rush but he methodically picked apart the secondary with throws of 9, 11, 14, 7, and 17 yards.
Rosoe Coles finally scored for Tech on a one-yard plunge with 45 seconds left, setting up the try for a two-point conversion. Bestwick said he knew what the Gobblers would do - "go down the line and either run or throw" - yet the Cavaliers couldn't prevent Lamie from pulling up and hitting a wide-open Ken Lewis with a bullet pass.
Tech then tried an unsuccessful onside kick. Virginia took over on its 28 but, with no time outs left, could go nowhere.
By then, Mark was on the sidelines with bruised ribs from a tackle early in the final quarter. Before leaving, he had completed 10 of 17 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, a beautiful 12-yard strike to tight end Mike Newhall. Virginia's other score came on a three-yard sprint by tailback Billy Harris that ended an 84-yard drive.