Miami 25, Virginia 17
The Virginia Cavaliers ended the regular season with a defeat, their second straight. They finished with a losing ACC record for only the second time in 19 years. They are expected, in the coming days, to get an invitation to a largely unrecognizable bowl that will mean little except to the most diehard of fans. But after Virginia's 25-17 loss to the 10th-ranked Miami Hurricanes on Saturday night at the Orange Bowl, there was perhaps some consolation in this fact:
The Cavaliers gave Miami a game.
This was not an effort too disgraceful to review during weekly film sessions, as Virginia Coach Al Groh deemed last weekend's blowout loss to Virginia Tech. The leaping effort Deyon Williams made to corral a six-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds remaining from Marques Hagans, barely touching a hand down in the end zone as his feet and body tumbled out of bounds, proved a fitting finale for the Cavaliers.
"I don't know if we necessarily had something to prove, but we do feel differently than last week," Cavaliers cornerback Marcus Hamilton said. "Last week was a very humbling experience. . . . There's no moral victories, or anything like that, but against one of the top teams in the country, we played well."
Now all the Cavaliers (6-5, 3-5) have to do is figure out whether they are headed to the Music City Bowl in Nashville or another second-tier opportunity in San Francisco, Houston or Fort Worth.
"We don't care where," defensive end Chris Long said. "We just want to play one more football game."
The Hurricanes (9-2, 6-2), meantime, ended the season with a measure of dignity -- if not dominance -- after having lost control of the ACC Coastal Division race and their long-shot national title hopes with last weekend's home loss to unranked Georgia Tech. Unless Virginia Tech lost to North Carolina in last night's late game in Blacksburg, Va., Miami likely sealed a bid to either the Peach Bowl or Gator Bowl when Charlie Jones scored on a one-yard run with 1 minute 53 seconds remaining to cap a 73-yard, six-play drive.
Virginia's offense proved surprisingly effective early, and its defense kept the Cavaliers close until Jones's score. The Cavaliers, in fact, threatened to tie the score in the final five minutes, driving 57 yards to the Miami 26 with 3:59 remaining. But that drive ended on a play that resembled much of the Cavaliers' season: It was very well-executed -- almost. On fourth and six, a Miami blitz forced Hagans to rush a pass to Williams, who twisted his body but didn't haul in the misfire with one hand.
"Everybody came and forced him to make a throw like that," said Williams, who caught six passes for 152 yards. "I thought I could have grabbed it. Great players make great catches like that. That's a step I have got to make."
The game certainly started with a blast of excitement thanks in part to Williams. Virginia positively stunned Miami when, on its second possession, Emmanuel Byers took a reverse handoff near the Cavaliers' end zone and unloaded a long pass to Williams, who had gotten behind Miami's secondary. The Hurricanes were so discombobulated by the trick play that defensive backs Marcus Maxey and Brandon Meriweather barreled into one another, the collision sending Meriweather to the turf. Left to cover Williams alone, Maxey eventually fell down on the job, too, diving futilely for Williams's feet as he outraced Maxey to the end zone.
The 90-yard play was the longest ever against the Hurricanes, and it gave Virginia a 7-3 lead with 5:19 left in the first quarter. Miami, however, scored two touchdowns in the second quarter, and added a field goal on the last play of the third quarter. Quarterback Kyle Wright steadied the Hurricanes throughout, completing 23 of 30 passes for 248 yards.
"We had a good season, not a great season," Miami Coach Larry Coker said. "I think a [great] season for us would be playing Southern Cal or Texas in Pasadena."