Virginia 30, Georgia Tech 10
-- A scout from the Champs Sports Bowl was chatting with Virginia officials outside the Cavaliers' locker room Saturday, telling them, "We'd really like to have you in Orlando." Across the room, a representative from the Peach Bowl spoke up and said, "Hey, you know there's a pecking order."
The No. 18 Cavaliers certainly helped themselves move up in that pecking order with their 30-10 victory over Georgia Tech in front of 43,971 at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Virginia's first win at Georgia Tech since 1994 ensured that the Cavaliers will finish no worse than fourth in the ACC, and probably ensured them a spot in a postseason bowl game on the East Coast.
Virginia (8-2, 5-2) can claim at least a share of the ACC championship if it beats No. 15 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Saturday. The winner of that game would probably earn a spot in either the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., or the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on New Year's Eve. The loser will probably play in the Champs Sports (formerly Tangerine) Bowl on Dec. 21.
If the Cavaliers had lost to Georgia Tech, they could have been in danger of falling to the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte for the third consecutive season, or, worse, the less prestigious MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
"It was a big win," Virginia wide receiver Michael McGrew said. "We just wanted to get a positive feeling again after the Miami loss. It's good to get that train rolling again and have some momentum."
The Cavaliers will need all the momentum they can get against the Hokies, who wiped out Maryland, 55-6, at Lane Stadium on Thursday night. Virginia has won once in its last four games at Virginia Tech, a 36-32 victory in 1998. The Hokies have won six games in a row after losing two of their first four.
"I thought it was one of the most awesome performances I've seen in a long time," Virginia Coach Al Groh said of the Hokies' lopsided victory over the Terrapins. "I think, clearly, we have the most challenging game to play next week that we've had all year long."
Groh thought playing the Yellow Jackets would be more challenging than it was after his team lost to Miami, 31-21, in Charlottesville last week, a loss that knocked the Cavaliers out of the BCS race (the Hurricanes will win the ACC's automatic BCS berth if they beat the Hokies on Dec. 4 because they would win tiebreakers over Virginia and Florida State).
But Virginia's defense dominated Georgia Tech's sluggish offense from the start, sacking Reggie Ball six times and forcing four turnovers.
The Cavaliers did just enough on offense, running for 207 yards and three touchdowns, and their special teams forced a game-changing fumble on a kickoff return.
"It was a gritty win by our players," Groh said. "It was a real team operation. It was tough, grinding action on offense. Defensively, they stepped up and did a terrific job. Special teams helped us define the game."
Senior tailback Alvin Pearman gave the Cavaliers a 7-0 lead on his six-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes 18 seconds left in the first quarter. Virginia used more than eight minutes on its first possession of the second quarter, and Connor Hughes kicked a 33-yard field goal that made it 10-0 with 6:16 left in the half.
Georgia Tech's Travis Bell kicked a 34-yard field goal on the Yellow Jackets' first possession of the second half to cut Virginia's lead to 10-3. After the Cavaliers punted, Tech seemed to be driving for a game-tying touchdown midway through the third quarter. But on first down and 10 from the Cavaliers 33-yard line, Ball threw down the right sideline for freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but his pass was intercepted by cornerback Marcus Hamilton.
Virginia took over and quarterback Marques Hagans opened the drive with six consecutive passes, completing the last five to move to the Georgia Tech 41. On second and one, junior Wali Lundy burst around right end and ran 32 yards for a touchdown. Hughes's extra-point kick gave the Cavaliers a 17-3 lead with 6:06 remaining in the third.
Offensive coordinator Ron Prince "did a real good job changing the gears," Groh said. "It was quite sticky up inside there, but they were giving us something on the outside, and he reacted to that very quickly. Marcus responded to that with good accuracy."
Hagans, who had struggled throwing in the previous three games, completed 19 of 28 passes for 171 yards, and ran seven times for 35 yards. Pearman ran 17 times for 83 yards and two touchdowns, and Lundy ran 10 times for 57 yards and one score.
Ball, who lost a fumble in the first half and threw two interceptions in the end zone, completed 19 of 33 passes for 226 yards.
"It was important for him to get his confidence back," McGrew said of Hagans, who had completed only 50 percent of his passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns in the last three games combined. "He made some nice throws."
After Lundy's touchdown run, Georgia Tech's Levon Thomas fumbled the kickoff return, and Virginia's Brandon Isaiah recovered at the Yellow Jackets 12. Tech's defense held, forcing Hughes to kick a 27-yard field goal for a 20-3 lead with 3:38 left in the third. But Tech went nowhere on its next possession, and then the Cavaliers drove 70 yards in seven plays, with Pearman scoring on a one-yard run that made it 27-3 with 14:27 remaining.
After that, the Cavaliers could turn their attention to the Hokies, a share of the ACC championship and their postseason plans.
"We're going to play a great team," senior guard Elton Brown said. "The display they put on Thursday night was one of the greatest I've ever seen."