Thomas Jones ran for 210 yards and scored two touchdowns, and Dan Ellis threw for 168 yards and three touchdowns to lead Virginia past No. 17 Brigham Young, 45-40, tonight before 65,463 fans.
The Cougars reached the 10-yard line in the closing minutes but freshman defensive back Jerton Evans intercepted Kevin Feterik's pass in the end zone with 1 minute 37 seconds to play to seal the victory for the Cavaliers (3-1).
"It's a crucial win for us," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "If we are going to win seven and go to a bowl game, this one was huge one to get, no doubt about it."
With 3:15 to play, Virginia's Jermaine's Lauzon made an interception that would have ended it. Feterik, under pressure, lofted a pass in the direction of Michael Westbrook.
Lauzon came down with the ball in the end zone, but he was called for holding. That gave BYU a first down at the Cavaliers 22 near the three-minute mark. A holding penalty set the Cougars back and Feterik threw incomplete twice before Evans made his second interception.
The Cavaliers could not have hoped for a better start. They scored on their first two possessions, driving easily against BYU's defense, and Feterik by dropping eight or nine men into pass coverage.
Virginia went 80 yards in 12 plays on their first drive. Fullback Anthony Southern caught a swing pass and turned it into a 15-yard touchdown.
Feterik had plenty of time to throw on BYU's first three plays, as the Cavaliers rushed only three linemen. The strategy paid off, as Tim Spruill, listed as doubtful most of the week, intercepted his pass at midfield.
The Cavaliers immediately cashed in, going 51 yards in seven plays to stun the BYU crowd. Ellis connected with Kevin Coffey on a 25-yard touchdown pass, and Virginia led 14-0.
Virginia got its third touchdown after Donnie Scott's 64-yard punt pinned the Cougars on their 1-yard line. Evans had the interception on third and 10 at the Cougars 34. A wide-open Coffey dropped a halfback pass from Jones in the end zone, but no matter. Jones went 23 yards for the score a couple plays later.
BYU (2-1) didn't get a first down until the last play of the first quarter. By then, Ellis had thrown for 86 yards and two touchdowns and Jones had rushed 11 times for 54 yards and a score.
BYU finally got on the board with 7:17 left in the second quarter, going 61 yards in seven plays. Freshman Luke Staley scored on a two-yard run, but Maurice Anderson blocked the extra-point try and Virginia led 21-6. The score extended BYU's consecutive games scoring streak to 303, an ongoing NCAA record.
The Cavaliers answered that score, though, when Jones burst up the middle untouched and went 45 yards for a score with 5:02 left in the first half. But BYU came charging back. The Cougars figured out the defensive scheme, and began riddling the Cavaliers' secondary with crossing routes. They scored on a 41-yard run by Staley, but the two-point conversion failed.
Two plays later, Gray stepped in front on an Ellis pass intended for Demetrius Dotson and returned the interception 28 yards for another Cougars score. Suddenly, the crowd had something to cheer about, as the Cougars closed to 28-19 at halftime.
If the first half started well for the Cavaliers, the second half opening was even better. Spruill picked up a loose lateral and sprinted 20 yards to the end zone on the second play from scrimmage. The Cougars stopped on the play thinking the pass from Feterik to Jonathan Pitman was an incomplete forward pass. Television replays were not conclusive.
"That play's the difference maker right there," Welsh said of the lateral. "You need a play like that to win a game like this. Our offense isn't designed to score all those points."