With an offensive outburst powered by running back Thomas Jones, Virginia and backup quarterback David Rivers outgunned the nation's top scoring team in the final three quarters to defeat No. 7 Georgia Tech, 45-38, before 44,500 at Scott Stadium today.
"Right now, I don't know if it has hit me yet," said Rivers, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. "It's an amazing victory, the kind you dream of."
Jones, the NCAA rushing leader, made his best statement yet for Heisman Trophy consideration, rolling over the Yellow Jackets with 165 yards in the second half, finishing with two touchdowns and 213 yards on 39 carries.
The win revived bowl hopes for Virginia (5-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), while severely damaging the Yellow Jackets' hopes for a berth in the Bowl Championship Series. The Cavaliers would become eligible for a bowl by winning either of their two remaining games, at home against Buffalo on Saturday or at Maryland on Nov. 20.
Rivers, named Virginia's starter Thursday because of Dan Ellis's slow recovery from a concussion, opened the game with three incompletions but connected on 18 of his final 27 passes for 228 yards and one interception. The last of his three, a perfect 42-yard throw to streaking freshman wide receiver Billy McMullen, gave the Cavaliers a 38-31 lead with 12 minutes 15 seconds left to play.
"The kid did good," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "Amazing. He surprised me."
After taking the lead, Virginia then stopped Georgia Tech (6-2, 4-2), which entered the game as the nation's most potent offense with an average of 41.6 points per game, on the Cavaliers 33 with seven minutes remaining. Jones and sophomore running back Tyree Foreman took turns propelling the Cavaliers' ensuing drive, on which Virginia marched 65 yards on eight plays. Foreman scored from two yards out, putting Virginia ahead, 45-31, with 3:36 to play.
Georgia Tech wide receiver Kerry Watkins caught an eight-yard pass to bring the Jackets to 45-38, but Virginia tight end Chris Luzar recovered Luke Magnet's onside kick and Jones ran out the clock.
With 1,486 yards this season, he surpassed Tiki Barber's single-season school record of 1,397. Jones's 200-yard game was the fifth of his career and his third of the season.
Virginia had 493 total yards, including 311 in the second half. The Yellow Jackets racked up 447 yards and did not have to punt until late in the third quarter. Quarterback Joe Hamilton, who led the nation in passing efficiency with a 182.1 rating entering the game, completed 18 of 26 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
"We never really stopped them," Welsh said. "We just slowed them down."
Yellow Jackets wide receiver Dez White, who burned the Cavaliers for 243 yards and three touchdowns on six catches in last year's 41-38 victory, did not catch a pass until 1:20 left in the third quarter and finished with just 25 yards on two catches.
"There was a little payback involved," said Virginia senior cornerback Dwayne Stukes, who covered White for most of last year's game. "Our offense did its job; the defense did its job."
Two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half erased Georgia Tech's 17-0 lead and pulled the Cavaliers to 24-21 at halftime. With ample time provided by the Cavaliers' offensive line, Rivers completed 11 of 14 attempts for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter.
"We didn't rush [Rivers] very well," Georgia Tech Coach George O'Leary said. "Any time you give a quarterback time to throw, he can hurt you."
Ellis, who had practiced only once this week, was in uniform on the sidelines. But Welsh said he would not have used Ellis unless Rivers was injured.
"I wasn't going to pull him," Welsh said of Rivers. "Who's going to go in? Ellis hadn't practiced [enough], plus I didn't know if he was 100 percent."
Jones opened the third quarter by slicing untouched through a stacked line on fourth down for a 35-yard touchdown to give Virginia its first lead of the game.
KEEPING UP WITH JONES
In his past four games, Virginia tailback Thomas Jones has had four of the ACC's nine best rushing performances of the season.
Oct. 9 31/185/2
Oct. 16 38/221/3
(vs. N.C. State)
Oct. 30 26/164/1
(vs. Florida St.)
Nov. 6 39/213/2
(vs. Georgia Tech)
Four-Game Totals 134/783/8
Season Totals 274/1,486/15
ACC Season Rushing Records Within Reach
Yards: 1,720 by North Carolina's Don McCauley in 1970.
Attempts: 334 by Maryland's Charlie Wysocki in 1980.
Touchdowns: 19 by McCauley in 1970 and Georgia Tech's Robert Lavette in 1982.
Note: Virginia has two games left, vs. Buffalo and at Maryland.