Friday, November 16, 2012
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Cavs let not-so-good opportunity slip away

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Let's be honest: The max-drama scenario wasn't going to be that awesome anyway.

The hopeful dialogue went something like this: Imagine if Virginia were to beat North Carolina on Thursday, and Virginia Tech were to defeat Boston College on Saturday. Picture it! Both teams needing one win to make a bowl game, with their archrival the only thing standing between them and a ticket to some exotic locale.

Shreveport, La.? Nashville, Tenn.? El Paso, Texas? You want that good stuff? You gotta earn it, baby.

The max-drama scenario had it all. Two days after Thanksgiving, Tech-UVa would be a feast for รข? well, a regional TV audience to graze on with passing interest in the early afternoon, if we're being truthful about it.

At least there's still that.

We're reaching for positives here in a season that has been mostly flat in Charlottesville and Blacksburg. And we'll have to reach a little harder after Thursday, as the Cavaliers failed to deliver on their portion of the max-drama equation by falling to North Carolina 37-13.

You could draw the chalk line at the UNC 45-yard line and label it "UVa Bowl Hopes." That's where UVa receiver Darius Jennings had been running free with a little more than 10 minutes remaining, no defender within 5 yards of him.

Phillip Sims had lofted a perfect pass toward him, and the crowd began to cheer as the ball descended. Sims took a few steps toward the line of scrimmage in that "Yep, we got it" kind of way.

This would be an 81-yard touchdown that would cut the deficit back to a touchdown. There would still be hope.

Only there wouldn't.

Jennings had the ball glance off his hands, then his facemask, then his hands again. Incomplete. Punt. Over.

Still, as deflating as that play was, the Wahoos probably lost this game in the third quarter, as strange as that might sound.

Despite outscoring UNC 3-0 in the period and heading to the fourth trailing by just a touchdown, there was an overwhelming sense that the opportunity had fled. How long could the Cavs reasonably expect to keep Giovani Bernard, the nation's eighth-leading rusher, out of the end zone? How many times could UVa smack the golden platter away and still plan to hang around?

As the quarter ended, UNC had the ball and another chance convert its explosive no-huddle offense into a decisive win.

And that's what happened. Three UNC scores in less than a five-minute span turned a competitive game into a rout, running off most of the crowd of 45,760 long before ESPN signed off from Scott Stadium.

The third quarter, though, had been the time to strike. A muffed punt return by Bernard, who suffered through one of the tougher games of his career, set the Cavaliers up with a first-and-10 at the UNC 12. The next three plays netted only 1 yard. UVa had to swallow hard and kick a field goal.

On UVa's next possession, the Cavs drove more than 70 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the UNC 8. Three runs got them to the 1. The fourth run? That got them negative yardage and a deep sense of regret.

Loss No. 7, coming on the heels of back-to-back UVa victories over N.C. State and Miami, officially eliminated the Cavs from bowl contention and changed the dialogue for next week.

Now, as coach Mike London noted, it's about the opportunity to play one more game. To be with your teammates one last time. To send the seniors out on a good note.

Ouch.

The max-drama scenario doesn't sound that bad after all, does it?

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