Virginia 26, Florida State 21
With three police officers shielding him from the sellout crowd and, perhaps more importantly in the mind of Coach Al Groh, from inquisitive reporters in the press box at Scott Stadium on Saturday night, Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans lay on his back with his right leg being elevated by a trainer.
Virginia's seemingly slim hopes of upsetting No. 4 Florida State clearly rested with Hagans's right leg, after the senior strained his hamstring while scrambling with about 13 minutes to go in the first half.
So after limping back to the huddle, Hagans did what he knew he had to do, somehow staying in a game that might have ultimately decided the Cavaliers' fate this season.
And, over the next three hours or so, Hagans, the smallish quarterback who has always lacked height but not guts, delivered one of the most courageous performances in one of Virginia's most stunning victories, a 26-21 upset of Florida State.
"There probably haven't been too many games played by a Virginia quarterback like that one," Groh said. "It says a lot about him. This kid has a lot of attributes, but guts is high on his list. He's got a lot of heart and he cares deeply about this team."
If watching Hagans limp off the field wasn't enough anxiety for the crowd of 63,106, the second largest in Scott Stadium history, then watching the Seminoles rally from a 26-10 deficit during the fourth quarter surely made them hold their breath.
But Virginia's defense and Hagans made enough plays in the final five minutes to hold on. Virginia dashed Florida State's last hopes when safety Tony Franklin intercepted Drew Weatherford's pass to Chris Davis with 50 seconds left.
Hagans threw for a career-high 306 yards and two touchdowns as the Cavaliers (4-2, 2-2 ACC) ended a nine-game losing streak to the Seminoles. Even more impressive, Hagans didn't miss a single offensive play.
"It really did hurt at first," Hagans said. "But once I got to the side and they stretched it and massaged it, my adrenaline kicked in and I was okay. I knew I wasn't coming out of the game. The only way they were taking me out was if they were going to carry me out."
The Cavaliers' surprising victory -- the seven-point underdogs were coming off ugly losses at Maryland and Boston College -- came nearly 10 years to the day they last beat Florida State, a 33-28 win on Nov. 2, 1995, the then-No. 2 Seminoles' first defeat in the ACC.
It was Groh's first victory over a top-10 opponent in his five seasons as coach of his alma mater, and the Cavaliers beat a team ranked in the top 10 for only the fifth time in school history.
For a team that had so many things go wrong during the first six weeks of the season -- Cavaliers all-American linebacker Ahmad Brooks missed four of the first five games, all-American tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson the last two and right tackle Brad Butler was suspended from the Florida State game for his chop block against Boston College's Mathias Kiwanuka -- seemingly everything went right against the Seminoles (5-1, 3-1).
"This proves we can play with the big dogs," Brooks said. "This proves we can beat the good teams."
Hagans seemingly could do nothing wrong, completing 27 of 36 passes in his most impressive college start. The Cavaliers threw on their first 10 plays and all but one in their first 15.
After Hagans strained his hamstring, he gingerly dropped back on the next play and fired a 19-yard completion to tight end Jonathan Stupar. That helped set up senior Connor Hughes's 37-yard field goal that gave the Cavaliers a 13-10 lead with 8 minutes 59 seconds left in the first half.
With about 31/2 minutes left in the half, the Cavaliers pinned the Seminoles at their 1 with a booming punt. On Florida State's first play, quarterback Drew Weatherford threw deep down the right sideline for receiver Kenny O'Neal, and his pass was intercepted by cornerback Chris Gorham. Hughes kicked a 35-yard field goal six plays later to make it 16-10.
Florida State got the football back with about 11/2 minutes to go in the half and went nowhere, punting back to the Cavaliers with 1:08 left. Hagans threw a 23-yard pass to Deyon Williams on first down, and two plays later produced the play of the game. On second and six from the FSU 16, Hagans rolled right, escaped from linebackers Ernie Sims and Buster Davis and somehow lofted a pass to tailback Wali Lundy. Lundy caught the pass at the 10 and ran into the end zone for a 23-10 lead with 19 seconds remaining in the half.
Hughes kicked a 45-yard field goal on the Cavaliers' first possession of the second half to make it 26-10.
The Virginia defense, which allowed more than 1,000 yards in losses to the Terrapins and Eagles, suddenly had a backbone and forced Weatherford to throw two critical interceptions in the first half. With Brooks returning to his former self, hurdling a pair of linemen on one play and delivering big hits on several, the Cavaliers held running backs Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington to only 95 yards on 21 carries.