Virginia 27, Syracuse 24
Cedric Peerman was ready to run the ball. Connor Hughes was ready to kick it.
But Virginia Coach Al Groh had other ideas.
Facing a fourth-and-inches situation on the 9-yard line with 1 minute 26 seconds left and the score tied against Syracuse, Groh sent in fullback Jason Snelling for Peerman and kept Hughes, his senior place kicker, on the sidelines and went for the inch.
"Did you guys ever see the movie 'Risky Business?' " Groh said later. "Sometimes you just gotta say 'What the heck?' "
Snelling bulled his way for four yards and a first down. The Cavaliers ran off two more plays -- and all but one second on the clock -- and then Hughes came on for the game-winning field goal and a stirring 27-24 victory over Syracuse in front of 40,027 fans at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
Virginia (2-0) overcame three interceptions and Syracuse's 10-point rally in the fourth quarter that had the Carrier Dome rocking as the Cavaliers took the field with 6:18 remaining.
Virginia, despite playing without starting tailback Wali Lundy and junior linebacker Ahmad Brooks, kept its composure and crisply marched the ball down the field.
"That's one of the things that's necessary on the road," Groh said. "You're going to find yourself in those circumstances. Now we've done it. It doesn't mean it comes automatically the next time, but now we've done it."
Marques Hagans, Virginia's senior quarterback, broke off the biggest play of the drive. On third and six with five minutes left, Hagans juked his way out of Syracuse's blitz and scampered for 26 yards to the Orange 29-yard line.
"He's just a dynamic player," Peerman said. "If you let him scramble, he's going to kill you."
Syracuse, in its first year under Coach Greg Robinson, fell to 1-2 after three home games.
Brooks, who underwent offseason knee surgery, didn't even make the trip to Syracuse. Senior Mark Miller played brilliantly in Brooks's absence, recording seven tackles. Junior linebacker Kai Parham had eight tackles, including three sacks of Syracuse's Perry Patterson. They were part of a Virginia defense that made sure Syracuse never capitalized on the three interceptions.
Lundy injured his foot in Virginia's opener against Western Michigan two weeks ago. He tested it before the game, but remained on the sideline for the entire game. That left the running chores to Peerman and Michael Johnson.
Johnson ran the ball six times for 81 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown run that gave Virginia a 24-14 lead with 6:57 left in the third quarter. Peerman finished with 63 yards on 20 carries.
Peerman was in the Virginia huddle, expecting to carry the ball one more time when Groh sent in Snelling at the last minute.
"I had no idea he was going to come in," Peerman said. "I didn't know if I'd done something wrong or what."
As the Cavaliers came out of their huddle, Peerman was still coming off the field. Robinson, flinging his play sheets into the air, screamed for an illegal substitution penalty.
Groh said there was no cause for a penalty because Peerman exited the huddle as soon as Snelling arrived; however, Groh did admit that he was holding his breath as the play started.
On the Cavaliers' front line, though, there was more anticipation than trepidation. Groh's faith in his offense had the linemen stoked.
"It fired up the line," Virginia senior tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "That's gut time. We just had to run the ball and get it."
Risky business aside, Groh had more strategic reasons for going for it on fourth down.
"We were going to have to take a stand someplace," Groh said. "Either we were going to have to stop them on four plays in a row with a three-point lead or we were going to have to try to make an inch.
"Certainly, the odds favored us making an inch than having to stop them on four plays in a row."