WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., OCT. 20 -- Forget the early jitters, the lethargic first half, the five-point deficit, the later-than-usual offensive blitzkrieg. The Virginia Cavaliers left Wake Forest this afternoon with a victory, a 49-14 win at that. Significantly, Virginia was No. 1 -- and still won. It was the first time in three weeks the nation's top-ranked team won a game.
Unlike Notre Dame and Michigan, the No. 1 teams that came before them, the Cavaliers did not meet with disaster. Trailing by 14-9 with nine minutes remaining in the first half, the Cavaliers (7-0, 4-0 in the ACC) exploded with a field goal, two touchdowns and two two-point conversions in the final six minutes to jump ahead, 28-14, at halftime.
Three second-half touchdowns completely overwhelmed the Demon Deacons (2-5, 0-4), sending the Cavaliers joyously spinning to an off week, followed by what likely will be their toughest game of the year, a Nov. 3 home date with Georgia Tech (5-0-1, 3-0-1).
There was consternation on the Virginia sidelines in the first half; relief in the second.
"Maybe the kids got cocky, I don't know," said Virginia Coach George Welsh. "All I know is the kids were worn out this week. All this media attention is very new to us. . . . But you just don't stop people all the time. You can't expect shutouts week after week. Those kids are human. We're not the San Francisco 49ers."
No, but with running backs Nikki Fisher and Terry Kirby each gaining more than 100 yards and quarterback Shawn Moore throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, Virginia continued its run as the nation's top college offense. The Cavaliers came into the game leading the nation in scoring at 48 points per game and total offense at 540 yards per game. Today, they were one point and 34 yards better than their average.
First came Jake McInerney's four first-half field goals in front of 23,124 at sun-splashed Groves Stadium. Then came the touchdowns when the Cavaliers decided it was time to spread their offense with four wideouts. In the first half, there were scoring catches by Herman Moore and Kirby. In the second half, sticking to the ground, came scoring runs of 16 yards by Gary Steele, 63 yards by Fisher and one yard by reserve quarterback Matt Blundin.
"We are not as good when we run, run and pass, respectively, on first, second and third down," said wide receiver Derek Dooley, who caught four passes for 56 yards. "The way we win is with the big play -- break a big play on first down, throw on second down, that kind of strategy."
Although Wake Forest turned over the ball three times in the first quarter alone, the Cavaliers offense continually stopped itself and had to rely on McInerney's perfect right foot for 45-, 28-, 26- and 28-yard field goals in the first half. (The 45-yarder is the longest in the senior's career.)
Ahead 9-0 with about 10 minutes left in the first half, the Cavaliers finally realized how badly the missed opportunities could hurt them. On third down from his 40, Wake Forest quarterback Phil Barnhill, a senior from Washington's Archbishop Carroll High, fired deep to tailback Darrell France, who stole the ball from leaping cornerback Jason Wallace and dashed into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown.
Just 46 seconds later, the Demon Deacons went ahead. Virginia, looking uncharacteristically shaken, fumbled on first down and Wake Forest stormed to what would be its final touchdown. Shawn Moore tossed an ill-advised pitch to Kirby as defensive tackle Aubrey Hollifield approached. The ball bounced out of Kirby's grasp and Hollifield landed on it at the Virginia 13.
Two plays later, tailback Tony Rogers dashed around left end untouched for the touchdown and a 14-9 Wake Forest lead with 9:15 remaining in the half.
At this point, Welsh said he thought his team would be "in a dogfight into the fourth quarter." McInerney, who comes from Bishop O'Connell High, brought Virginia closer with his final field goal with 5 1/2 minutes to go. To that point, Virginia had run 43 plays, and 32 had begun in Wake Forest territory. Yet the Cavaliers were behind, 14-12.
Enter Shawn Moore and the big-play offense. After forcing a punt, Virginia moved to the Wake 49 for a first down with 2:35 left. Moore called a play-action pass, and looked for the other Moore, Herman. Quarterback Moore rolled to his left, then threw to wide receiver Moore, all alone down the right sideline. He scampered into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Shawn Moore ran the ball for a successful two-point conversion.
Virginia would have been happy with that at halftime, but there was to be more. After a short Wake Forest punt, Virginia moved from the 50 to the 20 on receptions by Dooley and Kirby. With 30 seconds remaining, Moore threw to Kirby over the middle for the touchdown, and tight end Aaron Mundy, playing for injured Bruce McGonnigal, caught the conversion pass for a 28-14 Virginia lead.
"We stopped playing conservatively," said Herman Moore, who caught four passes for 73 yards. "We stopped running and started to pass. A lot of people watching may have been sceptical, but there was not a lot of panic on the sideline."
Said Shawn Moore, "The two quick scores kind of eased the pain."
Virginia simply poured it on in the second half. A 75-yard drive ended with Steele's run, then Wake Forest was stopped cold on two consecutive fourth-down attempts before Fisher's dash down the right sideline late in the third quarter put the game away.