"I hate it," fumed Charles McDaniel, Virginia's senior linebacker. "I've been here four years; lost four times. This was the year."
Sorry, Charles, the beating goes on.
Virginia (3-2) has lost all 25 games it has played against Clemson, following today's 27-24 loss to the Tigers (2-3) in front of 78,000 fans in Clemson Memorial Stadium. The walls of Death Valley were coated with orange, the burnt hue winning out today.
Red was the color of the faces of the Virginia players as they exited the field. Anger, embarrassment, frustration, it all flows together when you lose one you think you should have won.
The Cavaliers led by 10-3, 17-13, and then led again at 24-20. But not when it counted. They even lost their last chance at victory when Eric Clay, trying to block Andy Newell's punt from inside his five, unpardonably roughed the kicker to allow Clemson to keep the ball with 2:43 to play. Clemson ran out the clock.
"I have no idea," Virginia Coach George Welsh responded to suggestion of a jinx. "Just one year at a time. I didn't think there were any mental barriers. I'd like to have played better on defense. They didn't turn the ball over today. In their other games, they turned it over, otherwise they would have won a couple. (In) the other games (in the series) they were too good for us. I don't think anybody took control of this game."
But somebody should have, and that team calls Virginia home.
Coming in, the Tigers had the worst turnover margin in Division I-A: minus 11, or 4.5 a game. Today, they gave the ball away once.
The Cavaliers also turned it over once, an improvement over last year in Charlottesville when they committed five turnovers in a 55-0 loss.
This year, Clemson was last in the ACC in total offense (290.0) and rushing (131.2). Virginia was 10th in the nation and first in the ACC in rushing, and second in the league in total offense. Today, Virginia led, 17-13, at halftime with only a seven-yard advantage in total offense. But the Tigers gained 227 in the second half to finish with a 427-349 advantage.
"There is no reason for why we didn't move the ball as effectively," said Cavaliers quarterback Don Majkowski. He completed seven of 17 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns, but threw an interception. He rushed 64 yards on 13 carries and would have led the Cavaliers in that department were it not for a sack by linebacker Henry Walls that aborted the Cavaliers' last possession of the game.
"They shouldn't have stopped us in the second half," Majkowski said. "But they did come back and make the big plays."
Did they ever. Clemson has five guys on its team with the last name of Williams. One of them, Rodney, is the first Clemson freshman to start at quarterback since Steve Fuller. He completed seven of 12 passes for 101 yards. A second, Ray, was pure excitement all five times he touched the ball.
Clemson led, 3-0, in the first quarter after a 10-play, 58-yard drive that ended with David Treadwell's 25-yard field goal. But Virginia went up, 10-3, on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Majkowski to Quanah Bullock and a 27-yard field goal by Kenny Stadlin.
Ray Williams fielded the kickoff with 2:41 left in the second quarter and returned it 42 yards, but a clipping penalty erased the effort. So Clemson started on its nine. With the running of Stacey Driver (a game-high 121 yards) and two completions by Rodney Williams, the Tigers had first down on Virginia's 26.
Rodney Williams pulled and moved right on the option. But instead of pitching to Driver, he delivered the ball to flanker Terrance Roulhac on the reverse, with Roulhac scoring for a 10-10 tie.
Virginia responded, though, with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Majkowski throwing a 33-yard pass to tight end Joel Dempsey, who filled in for injured Geno Zimmerlink, for a 17-10 lead.
Clemson had two good chances for a touchdown in the middle of the second quarter, but Rodney Williams missed two receivers open in the end zone, and the Tigers had to settle for Treadwell's 38-yard field goal.
Virginia's first possession of the second half accomplished little, and following a punt, Clemson took over at its 20. On this drive it was Clemson's other 100-yard runner doing most of the work. Tailback Kenny Flowers (111 yards on 19 carries) carried three straight times for 40 yards. But then the Tigers were in a spot. On third down, Driver ran for what would have been a first down, but Ray Williams clipped, and Clemson had third and 21 from the 29.
Danny Ford figured if it works once why not twice?
Rodney Williams optioned left, again using Driver as the decoy pitch man. This time, Ray Williams came from the left and took the pitch. But a new twist to the same play: Williams eluded a tackler and found Roulhac open in the end zone behind two defenders.
It appeared that Roulhac's feet may have been out of bounds when he caught the ball, but Clemson led, 20-17.
"His feet were clearly out of bounds," said a Virginia assistant coach, Tony Whittlesey. "His body was in when he hit the ground, but his feet were out. Nice catch but it only counts in practice."
But Virginia didn't wilt, taking a 24-20 lead as Majkowski directed an eight-play, 47 yard drive, Kevin Morgan diving over to put the Cavaliers back up, 24-20, with a quarter to play.
On the ensuing drive, Rodney Williams passed to Ray Williams for 51 yards to st up Flowers' 12-yard run that made it 27-24 with 13:45 left.