Virginia quarterback Dan Ellis admits he had doubts when his fourth-down pass to Billy McMullen was incomplete, giving Maryland the ball with a three-point lead and 1 minute 40 seconds left to play yesterday against Maryland.
But just over a minute later, those doubts were erased when he hit McMullen with a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the Cavaliers a 34-30 victory at Byrd Stadium.
The Virginia offense was struggling after taking an early 17-0 lead and Terrapins tailback LaMont Jordan was running at will. The Maryland defense had limited the Cavaliers' primary weapon, tailback Thomas Jones, to just 79 yards on 27 carries at that point, and the passing game had not established itself.
"For a second, I thought, 'Jeez, we lost. We're not going to get the ball back,' " Ellis said. "I thought there was less time on the clock. Then I looked up at the scoreboard, saw there was 1:50 left and that we had two timeouts, and knew that we could probably get the ball back. It might have been with 10 seconds left, but we were going to get the ball back."
After the defense stopped the Terrapins in three plays and 28 seconds, Ellis got the ball back on the Cavaliers 24 with no timeouts and 1:12 left. He then engineered a nine-play, 76-yard drive in 46 seconds that ended with McMullen's mid-air grab. With the exception of downing the ball three times, Ellis completed all five of his passes for 63 yards on the drive.
"I thought Dan Ellis was outstanding," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "He couldn't have been any better, right? I mean, [he went] right down the field with no timeouts."
Ellis began with a nine-yard out pattern to junior wide receiver Ahmad Hawkins, who scurried out of bounds at the Virginia 33. He then connected with freshman wide receiver Tavon Mason over the middle for another nine yards to the Virginia 42.
A 15-yard pass to McMullen was followed by a Jones rush up the middle for 13 yards and another spike at the Maryland 20. The run, which set up the touchdown pass and put the Cavaliers within range of a game-tying field goal, caught the Terrapins off guard, as Jones went past the line of scrimmage almost untouched.
After downing the ball, Ellis had McMullen to his left, figuring he would attempt one shot at the end zone with 26 seconds left. Ellis lined up and surveyed the matchups between his receivers and the secondary. McMullen, a 6-foot-4 leaper with good hands, was opposite 5-11 sophomore Tony Okanlawon. At the line of scrimmage, Ellis adjusted McMullen's route from a corner to a long fade pattern. McMullen simply jumped over Okanlawon in the end zone and dragged his right foot inbounds upon landing.
"I saw Billy on a small guy," Ellis said. "I'm going to take advantage of that every time."