Don't dare try to tell Virginia this was only the Peach Bowl. Thousands of preppies dressed in orange stormed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium as daylight ended today, fulfilled with Virginia's first bowl victory.
The Cavaliers, after allowing 24 points the first half, shut out Purdue in the second half and beat the Boilermakers, 27-24, before 41,107. The ensuing celebration lasted nearly a half-hour. Some of the 12,000 or so Virginia fans stood at the 50-yard line and chanted, "We want (Heisman trophy winner Doug) Flutie."
Cavaliers tailback Barry Word took in the atmosphere and said, "This feels like the national championship, I swear. But it has to be this way for us. We'd never even been to a bowl."
Ray Daly, who made what might have been the game-saving interception with five minutes left in the game, found it nearly impossible to leave the field. "It feels like the Super Bowl, doesn't it?" Daly said, looking around at the stream of Cavaliers fans who kept pouring out of the stands. "There's so much enthusiasm."
Virginia Coach George Welsh, master of the understatement, said, "I think it's pretty significant that we were able to come down here and win."
It was Welsh who made the decision to go for a 22-yard field goal, on fourth and inches to go for a touchdown with seven minutes left in the game; those turned out to be the winning points. First, he called time.
"My initial reaction was to go for it," Welsh said. "What changed my mind? Reason prevailed. Actually, it's six on one hand, half-dozen on the other."
Welsh then asked kicker Kenny Stadlin if he wanted to back up five yards to get a better angle. Stadlin said yes. And Virginia took a five-yard delay-of-game penalty.
Purdue Coach Leon Burtnett said afterward he thought about declining the penalty. Welsh, told of that, said, "They probably should have."
Purdue (7-5), which tied for second in the Big Ten, took over at its 33 and moved efficiently downfield until being penalized for illegal motion at the Virginia 25. On the next play, Jim Everett, who threw for more than 3,000 yards this season, tried a pass to his favorite receiver, Steve Griffin, who already had caught four passes for 69 yards, including one touchdown.
The pass never reached Griffin. "They had been running the same pattern against me earlier," said Daly, from Seabrook, Md. "As a matter of fact, it was the same pattern he beat me on for the touchdown in the first half.
"I was reading his route, and it was the exact same one as before. But this time I stepped in front of him."
Daly dropped to his knees to make the catch. Virginia ran off the last five minutes by getting three first downs rushing.
"We knew we could run out the clock," said Word, who rushed 17 times for 86 yards. Word and Howard Petty, who had a 114-yard performance rushing, simply tired out the Boilermakers' defense in the second half.
But it was Virginia's defense that deserved most of the credit. Daly, a cornerback, made an interception in the first quarter that led to Petty's 11-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead for the Cavaliers (8-2-2).
The enthusiasm of Virginia's fans, in fact, only reflected the enthusiasm of the defense. Many defensive players said they felt embarrassed at halftime when Virginia trailed, 24-14, on the strength of three touchdown passes from Everett.
The most upset Cavalier might have been all-Atlantic Coast Conference tackle Ron Mattes, who missed a sack on the play that ended with Everett throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marty Scott.
"I told them at halftime that it was my fault, and I owed 'em one," Mattes said later. Linebacker Charles McDaniel had a little speech of his own: "I said there was no way we were going to let this be like the Maryland game (a 45-34 loss for the ACC championship)."
Although Virginia made at least one adjustment -- the linebackers moved up to cut off Purdue's successful draw plays from the shotgun -- Welsh played down strategy.
"We were much more aggressive in the second half," Welsh said. "We disrupted Everett's rhythm more often. We had him running around some. I think we had decent pressure on him when he threw that last interception."
Welsh expected Purdue to throw at least 40 passes and he was right. Everett completed 22 of 42 attempts for 253 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
"Virginia was fired up in the second half," Everett said. "Their pass rush was better but they didn't change any of their coverages."
Burtnett thought the game was about as even as could be. "If we played each other 10 times, we'd probably split, five and five," he said. "I said before the game that turnovers would be the difference and they were."
Daly's interception -- his sixth in seven games -- not only helped Virginia to finish with its best season since 1952, but it helped him forget what started as an awful weekend. He was "bummed out" as he put it because the Redskins had lost to the Chicago Bears Sunday.
"I had to do something today," he said, smiling.
Before the Virginia fans took to the streets of Atlanta, shouting "Waaahoooo, Waaahooo," they tore down one of the goal posts. Officials here unofficially declared it the first time anyone had found reason to tear down a goal post at the Peach Bowl. Purdue 10 14 0 0 24 Virginia 7