Trying to compete with an inspired North Carolina State team and its own self-destructive tendencies proved too much as Virginia failed on a last-minute two-point conversion attempt and lost, 23-22, today at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Down 23-3 early in the third quarter, the Cavaliers (5-4, 3-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference), rallied on the running of tailback Barry Word and closed to 23-16 with 4:29 to play on Don Majkowski's 14-yard pass to tight end Joel Dempsey.
Then, holder Scott Secules bobbled the snap on the would-be conversion and threw an incomplete pass. So, instead of being able to kick for the victory after Word's two-yard touchdown run with 40 seconds to play, the Cavaliers had to try for two.
On that conversion try, Majkowski rolled right and threw to Word, who was open, lunged for the ball but failed to hang on.
"It was a catchable ball," said Word, who scored two touchdowns and gained 160 yards on 28 carries, surpassing 1,000 yards for the season. "It's a terrible feeling when you don't come up with it. At first, I think it's my fault we lost the game, but on second look, I know we made a lot of other mistakes."
Indeed, Virginia found itself having to play catch-up because of a steady stream of first-half errors, including four dropped passes, four important penalties and a missed field goal.
The Cavaliers' initial drive set the tone. Moving the ball to the State 28 in four plays, they stalled after Majkowski was flagged for intentional grounding on a first-down pass, and had to settle for Kenny Stadlin's 40-yard field goal.
Wolfpack tailback Vince Evans then carried eight times on a 15-play, 51-yard drive that culminated in the first field goal for freshman kicker Bryan Carter, a 36-yarder.
Reserve State tailback Frank Harris made a 67-yard touchdown play on a floater from Erik Kramer when cornerback Chris Warren fell down. Harris caught the ball in stride on the Virginia 35 and went untouched to make it 10-3. Next, Stadlin saw his school-record streak of 10 consecutive field goals end when he hooked a 39-yard effort.
With State at third and goal on the four early in the second quarter, Kramer overthrew tight end Johnny Davis, but cornerback David Cardenas was called for interference. Given a reprieve, State moved to 17-3 on Evans' two-yard dive.
The Wolfpack scored on a 10-yard pass from Kramer to Haywood Jeffires on its first possession of the second half, missed the conversion and led by 20.
"It's been a difficult type of season and a bit of a struggle," said State Coach Tom Reed, whose team is 3-7, 2-4 in the ACC. "These kids do not quit."
Evans, who gained 89 yards on 20 carries, cited the Wolfpack's ability to run as the key. "The main thing about running the ball is maintaining possession. That's what we did today," he said. "We had a ball control offense, sustained drive and kept the defense off the field."
Virginia Coach George Welsh said, "I don't think we played very well. I don't know about (whether we were) flat. I've kind of given up on making these judgments."