Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: 'Epic' win ignites Hoos' bowl hopes

CHARLOTTESVILLE - The players took off from the sidelines, no uniform direction in mind. Some raced for the student section. Others found family.

Linebacker Steve Greer went to the middle of the field and just looked around, watching fans start to pour out of the Scott Stadium stands and down off the hill.

"It was just kind of a release of emotion," Greer said, after his Virginia team rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to stun Miami 41-40 in a Coastal Division thriller Saturday. "We've worked hard to hold this thing together. It felt good."

Receiver Miles Gooch, who caught his first career touchdown pass to open the shootout, couldn't even remember all the directions he ran when this one ended.

"I was all over the place," he said with a smile. "It was wonderful. Epic."

Epic. A three-win team coming into the day experienced something epic. And the 45,000 plus who showed up experienced it with them. They bounded into the concourse shouting the first thing that came to mind: "How 'bout them Hoos!"

Yes. How 'bout them? Mired in a six-game losing streak entering November, UVa now has won two straight ACC games. Last week it was a brilliant defensive effort at N.C. State. This week, the offense - led by the unconscious accuracy of quarterback Michael Rocco - rescued the team with an 83-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:41 to down the Hurricanes.

The result is a 4-6 record that feels a lot better than it is. The Cavs are playing with confidence - enough that they're not ruling out the possibility of taking their last two games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech to qualify for a bowl.

"This is a tournament now," said Phillip Sims, UVa's other quarterback. "You win and you're in; you lose and you go home."

They might not have to go home. Not if Rocco can continue to be anything close to what he was Saturday, when he connected on 29 of 37 throws for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Not if Rocco, showing more poise and touch than he ever had, can complete 18 passes in a row like he did at one point against the 'Canes.

OK, that might be tough. He couldn't remember doing that before on any level.

"Maybe flag football when I was 6," Rocco said. "Right now my mind's kind of blown by what just happened. I'm really excited."

Indeed, Rocco's hands were visibly shaking and his leg was twitching as he spoke in the interview room some 30 minutes after he'd connected with Jake McGee for the winning touchdown pass with six seconds left. That was the story of the day, the story of UVa at the moment: Don't sit still. Keep moving. The energy and adrenaline are coursing like they haven't in some time. Use it.

Part of that relates to the integration of young players into the lineup. McGee is only a sophomore. Gooch is only a sophomore. Dominique Terrell, who caught nine passes for 127 yards, is only a sophomore. Darius Jennings, who made two touchdown grabs, is only a sophomore.

One of the biggest plays of the game came from freshman cornerback Maurice Canady, who chased down Miami quarterback Stephen Morris on a long run, stripped the ball inside the 5 and recovered it himself at the UVa 2 with 13:40 remaining.

"I think you see a level of energy from these young guys," coach Mike London said. "I've always said the good thing is they don't know what they don't know, but the bad thing is they don't know what they don't know. But our older players have embraced them, [understanding] that there is a skill level that they have that can add to helping us win games."

Two down, two more to try to get. This is a tournament now. UVa wants to be Cinderella.

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