RALEIGH, N.C. — Virginia defensive end Eli Harold had heard enough from North Carolina State left tackle Rob Crisp.
All game, Crisp was in Harold’s ear, trying to get under the freshman’s skin during post-whistle scuffles. And all game, Harold simply focused on swarming Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon, collecting his first career interception as a reward.
But finally, with the stands at Carter-Finley Stadium half-empty on a homecoming to forget for the Wolfpack, Harold let Crisp have it.
“I was like: ‘Man, why are you talking? You’re losing. Look at the scoreboard,’ ” Harold said after Virginia ended a six-game losing streak by destroying North Carolina State, 33-6.
“I mean, I beat him so many times. . . . I’m not trying to be cocky about it. I’m just telling you the facts. But the guy came up to me. He’s punching me in my face while I’m brushing him, but the ball’s all the way [downfield]. He’s talking trash to me. He’s losing. I win. You don’t win. You’re just wasting time.”
It was that sort of afternoon for the Cavaliers (3-6, 1-4 ACC), who dominated the Wolfpack in every phase of the game to win for the first time in nearly two months. But it was the manner in which Virginia did so, reversing course on several season-long trends, that made it all the more impressive.
When Saturday began, Virginia’s season was teetering on the brink of disaster, with an offense that couldn’t turn yards into points, the worst turnover margin in the country and a defense incapable of creating game-changing plays.
By the time the game ended, the Cavaliers’ defense had forced as many turnovers (five) as it had through the first eight games of this season, and sacked Glennon six times. Virginia, which entered the weekend with the fewest sacks in the ACC, held the Wolfpack to a season low in points, passing yards (197) and rushing yards (19).
Glennon (Westfield High) had been the ACC’s most prolific passer, but he finished with just one touchdown and three interceptions. The Wolfpack’s only points came in the fourth quarter, when Virginia was already up, 26-0.
“I always talked about, if we could just get one [turnover] to happen, things would happen after that and you feed off the energy,” Cavaliers Coach Mike London said.
It was clear from the start that Virginia was a different team than the one that sulked into last week’s bye. On the opening drive of the game, the Cavaliers stormed down the field and, in a sign of things to come, even got some good luck.
On first and goal from the 4-yard line, Virginia ran a perfectly designed halfback pass to quarterback Phillip Sims, but the pass from senior Perry Jones hit Sims in the hands and dropped harmlessly to the ground. Two plays later, though, Sims made up for the gaffe when he beat North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson to the pylon on a one-yard touchdown scramble that put Virginia up 7-0.
“I was thinking about the celebration,” Sims said of his gaffe. “I was planning it as I was catching the ball.”
After the two teams exchanged turnovers, Michael Rocco entered the game at quarterback and promptly led the Cavaliers on a 10-play, 68-yard drive, finding wide receiver Darius Jennings wide open in the end zone on an 18-yard pass. When the first quarter ended, Virginia led the Wolfpack, 14-0, and had outgained them, 162-38.
Sims (8 of 10 for 115 yards) accounted for two touchdowns, including a 38-yard strike to wide receiver Tim Smith in the third quarter that put the game out of reach. Rocco (12 of 23 for 83 yards) added another score as Virginia gained 446 total yards. Behind 115 yards and a touchdown from tailback Kevin Parks, the Cavaliers finished with a season-high 248 rushing yards.
It was the Cavaliers’ defensive line that proved to be the galvanizing force. Up by 14, they made sure the lead stood with their most inspired play of the year.
Rushing just four players on most plays, using stunts and twists to confuse North Carolina State’s offensive line, Virginia sacked Glennon four times in the second quarter. The most important came midway through the quarter when defensive tackle Will Hill burst through the line of scrimmage and forced a safety to put Virginia up 16-0.
“We needed somebody to spark us off and once we got that first sack, we knew we were gonna get there,” said defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite, who led the charge with two sacks and a forced fumble.
After the game, Harold reveled in the number of red-and-white-clad fans who streamed to the parking lots after halftime because of the lopsided score. “There was nobody here,” he proclaimed.
Most importantly the Cavaliers got back to having fun again, happy to finally end a losing skid that had gone on long enough.
“At 2-6, it’s easy to say, ‘Screw it. Let’s just go out and play, whatever,’ ” defensive end Jake Snyder said. “But we kept preparing, kept focusing like this was the most important practice, the most important game, and that’s what you saw today.”