Virginia 37, Duke 16
-- A week later, Virginia's football team still had the weary-eyed, sluggish look of a post-Florida State hangover. As the Cavaliers went through warmups in Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday, they didn't have a lot of zip or emotion in their step. And if that wasn't enough to concern Virginia Coach Al Groh, his quarterback was limping around the field.
Fortunately for Groh, the No. 14 Cavaliers were playing the perfect remedy for any ailing ACC team: Duke. After a slow start, Virginia bounced back from last week's disheartening loss with a 37-16 victory over the Blue Devils in front of a sparse crowd of 24,157 fans, many of whom simply wanted a football ticket stub for free admission into Duke's basketball scrimmage Saturday night.
The concoction that got the Cavaliers out of their post-Tallahassee funk? A lot of Alvin Pearman and just enough of the gaffes that make Duke, well, Duke. Pearman, a senior from Charlotte, ran 38 times for 223 yards and one touchdown, and the Blue Devils missed a field goal attempt, gave up a blocked punt and failed to score from the Virginia 1-yard.
"This was a good, gritty win for the team," Groh said. "We got challenged in a number of ways right from the start. Obviously, our quarterback didn't have his fastball today. But he did what good quarterbacks have to do -- he brought his team home and he brought his team home a winner."
Marques Hagans, who injured his hip in last week's 36-3 loss at Florida State, was limping during warmups and then was woefully ineffective during the Cavaliers' first possession. Hagans, who completed 11 of 20 passes for 163 yards, underthrew Deyon Williams on a pass down the middle. He overthrew Michael McGrew on a long post pattern. On a third-down pass to tight end Heath Miller, Hagans threw the ball in the dirt.
"He didn't just miss throws," Groh said. "They were groundballs."
On the first play of Virginia's second possession, Hagans dropped back and was sacked by Duke safety Alex Green, who recovered Hagans's fumble at the Blue Devils 47-yard line. That led to Duke's first score -- quarterback Mike Schneider threw a four-yard touchdown to Corey Thompson -- and the Cavaliers (6-1, 3-1) were behind, 7-0, late in the first period.
From there, Groh turned his offense over to Pearman, who ran for 84 yards in the first quarter and 123 in the first half. Pearman came within one yard of tying Virginia's 56-year-old record of 224 rushing yards, set by John Papit against Washington & Lee in 1948. Pearman's 38 carries also were second-most in school history; Thomas Jones ran 39 times against Georgia Tech in 1999.
"We knew we wanted to run the ball, and we got it rolling early," Pearman said. "That's what [offensive coordinator Ron] Prince likes to do. If a play is working, he's going to keep running it."
That's exactly what the Cavaliers did late in the first quarter. Pearman ran to the right side, behind all-American guard Elton Brown and tackle Brad Butler, on nine consecutive plays, moving Virginia from its 29 to the Duke 7. Pearman ran to the left side on the 10th play, and was hit out of bounds by defensive end Justin Kitchen. Junior Wali Lundy replaced Pearman on the next play and scored on a one-yard run to tie the score at 7.
Lundy ran 11 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Johnson ran seven times for 47 yards. The Cavaliers, who carried 29 times for only 20 yards against the Seminoles, ran for 348 yards and three touchdowns against Duke, which came into the game ranked 103rd among 117 Division I-A teams in run defense.
"As a lineman, that's what you want," Brown said. "You want to keep running. Duke wasn't saying much. They were tired."
Still, things got a little hairy for the Cavaliers during the third quarter. After backup linebacker Jon Thompson blocked a Duke punt to set up Lundy's second touchdown, which put Virginia ahead, 23-7, the Blue Devils came right back. Duke converted a third and 14 on Schneider's 45-yard pass to tight end Ben Patrick. On the next play, cornerback Tony Franklin was penalized 15 yards for pass interference, giving the Blue Devils a first down at the Virginia 21. On first and goal, Schneider threw a three-yard touchdown to tight end Calen Powell. Duke tried for a two-point conversion pass but failed, making it 23-13 with three minutes three seconds left in the quarter.
"Third down and 14, that was a bad play," Groh said. "That made the game a lot stickier than it needed to be."
After Virginia punted on its next possession, the Blue Devils (1-6, 0-4) drove deep but settled for Matt Brooks's 27-yard field goal that cut the Cavaliers' lead to 23-16 with 14 minutes 3 seconds remaining. But Virginia answered with Pearman's three-yard touchdown run, and then Hagans threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Deyon Williams to make it 37-16 with less than three minutes remaining.
Duke, which has lost 35 of its last 37 games against ACC opponents, had a chance to take a halftime lead against the Cavaliers. Coach Ted Roof reached into his bag of tricks on several occasions -- his team ran a halfback pass, fake punt and used a reverse pass to move to the Virginia 5 late in the first half. The Blue Devils had five chances to score from there, after the Cavs were penalized for being offsides on third down and goal at the 1.
After the penalty, Cedric Dargan dove over the top, but was met at the goal line by linebacker Kai Parham and stopped for no gain. On fourth down, Schneider rolled to his right and threw to Ronnie Elliott, who was open in the end zone, but he underthrew the pass. Virginia took over at its 1 and drove 90 yards for a 27-yard field goal before halftime.
"We knew this was a critical game in our season," Pearman said. "We know Nov. 1 is the date that separates pretenders from contenders in college football. We're still in the race."