That is the mind-set Virginia Coach Mike London has set out to change, and perhaps Saturday night’s 14-13 win over No. 25 Florida State will help. The final 76 seconds of his team’s eighth victory of the season painted a picture of everything London wants his program to be known for — persistence and winning.
Virginia’s triumph set up a winner-take-all game in Charlottesville next Saturday against in-state rival Virginia Tech, with the victor representing the ACC’s Coastal Division in the conference championship game on Dec. 3.
“To come in here and beat this team, it’s unbelievable,” London said. “But that’s the way we should start thinking. That’s the way we want to start thinking. We want to build a program that guys feel confident about their abilities and who we go against and the things that happen.”
The list of things that happened in the closing minutes of Saturday night’s game is long and somewhat convoluted. The adventure began when Virginia linebacker Steve Greer sacked Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel for a loss of 14 to the Cavaliers 44-yard line, pushing the Seminoles out of field goal range. Florida State punted and Virginia, trailing 13-7, took over at its 25-yard line with just less than two minutes to play.
“You try to tell them all game, ‘You have to go on this drive,’ ” Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “I guess they waited until they really had to go at the end.”
For much of the night, Virginia had struggled to sustain any sort of offensive momentum. But sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco completed a 34-yard pass to redshirt sophomore wideout Tim Smith and then completed a 16-yard pass to junior tailback Perry Jones.
With the ball at the Florida State 10-yard line, the Cavaliers decided to start running the ball. To that point, Virginia had tallied 68 rushing yards, and no one thought redshirt freshman tailback Kevin Parks would take a handoff up the middle and run into the end zone. Until he did. Place kicker Robert Randolph’s extra point put the Cavaliers ahead by one, 14-13, with 1 minute 16 seconds left.
A long kickoff return set up the Seminoles at their 41-yard line, but the Virginia defense held steady. This was how it had been all night, a significant offensive gain by Florida State followed by a staunch second effort by the Cavaliers.
Virginia forced fourth and one at midfield with 38 seconds remaining. Senior defensive end Cam Johnson sacked Manuel, but he grabbed the quarterback’s face mask in the process. The personal foul penalty gave Florida State a new set of downs.
Three plays later, Manuel threw a pass to wideout Bert Reed near the Florida State sideline. The pass was ruled complete and Reed was ruled to be inbounds and short of the first-down marker, which kept the clock running. The Seminoles had eight seconds to rush their field goal unit onto the field and attempt a game-winning kick, but they could not snap the ball in time.
The game was over, it appeared. Virginia’s coaches sent the players off the field. Cornerback Chase Minnifield shook hands with a few Florida State players as he departed. Burd, Rocco and Aboushi were among the many who made it at least into the tunnel.
But then the game wasn’t over anymore. Florida State wanted the call on Reed’s last reception to be reviewed. The team that made the catch no longer wanted the catch to have been made. An incomplete pass would have stopped the clock, and there would have been time for one last play.
“I thought it was ironic that at first the other side thought it was a catch, and they were hurrying up to get the field goal team on,” London said. “And all of the sudden it was, ‘No, it wasn’t a catch.’ ”
The referees reviewed the play and changed the original ruling. No catch. Eight seconds back on the clock. Virginia’s players back on the field.
So the Seminoles lined up for a 47-yard field goal, but then a flag was thrown. Virginia’s players thought a Florida State offensive lineman had flinched, but the penalty was on the Cavaliers. Virginia had been called for a penalty London said he’d never heard of: disconcerting signal.
“They said we called ‘Hut,’ ” linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said. “I’m really not sure. The ref said he heard it, so he called it.”
Consequently, Florida State’s field goal attempt became one from 42 yards out.
London said he did not see the kick sail wide left. He kept his eyes on Seminoles place kicker Dustin Hopkins, and when Hopkins’s head slumped after he made contact with the ball, London knew the game finally was won. Virginia kneeled the ball once, and then the players retreated to their locker room one final time.
Virginia’s defense had given up 386 yards, 186 on the ground. The Cavaliers’ offense managed 204 yards through three quarters.
But in the end, it was enough. During the team’s walk-through Friday at Doak Campbell Stadium — a place Virginia never before had won — London told the players they belonged on that field, that they had the ability to compete against a storied Florida State program that once dominated the ACC and was a perennial national title contender.
And if his message didn’t sink in then, it had by late Saturday night.
“It’s a game that we deserve,” redshirt junior tight end Colter Phillips said. Florida State is “a great team, an absolutely great team with a lot of talent. But you know, it comes down to who has the most points at the end of the game, and we were just fortunate to have one more point than they did.”