Cavs resolve will be tested

Virginia's football team shed the embarrassment at Duke with remarkable resolve.

Overcoming Saturday's giveaway to Miami will be more demanding.

"You have to take this and use it to build a fire in your stomach," quarterback Marc Verica said after the 24-17 overtime defeat. "You don't want to experience this again. It's just a terrible feeling to lose like that."

We can only imagine.

Playing at home against an undisciplined opponent (12 penalties) quarterbacked by freshmen and coached by neophyte Randy Shannon, Virginia had countless chances to seize command. Countless chances to extend its winning streak to five games and tighten its grip on first place in the ACC's Coastal Division.

Instead, the Cavaliers failed to score after halftime, lost fumbles on their final two possessions — not counting a kneeldown to end regulation — and yielded touchdown passes on two of the Hurricanes' final three series.

"It's heartbreaking to our team," coach Al Groh said. "There are real raw emotions in the locker room."

Contrast that to late September at Duke, where Virginia was humbled 31-10 by a team that had lost 25 consecutive conference games. It was only Verica's second start and easily dismissed as an aberration.

Not so Saturday.

"We definitely had some things that we didn't take," Groh said. "We all had our chances."

Especially the offense.

Courtesy of turnovers, Virginia (5-4, 3-2 ACC) started its first two drives of the third quarter in Miami territory. But the Cavaliers went three-and-out on one and missed a field goal on another.

On third-and-2 from Miami's 27 midway through the fourth quarter, Virginia, leading 17-10, elected to throw, and Verica took a 12-yard sack. Questionable play call from the coaches and terrible awareness from Verica — throw the ball away!

After the Hurricanes (6-3, 3-2) drove 95 yards for the tying touchdown — much more on that in a moment — Verica moved Virginia into field-goal range, only to fumble the ball away after a 10-yard scramble.

Verica completed 27 passes for 240 yards without an interception. But he should have completed about 33 for well over 300 yards — he overthrew many an open receiver.

"We were close every time," receiver Maurice Covington said.

After Verica's sack, freshman punter Jimmy Howell pinned the Hurricanes at their 5 with 8:01 remaining. Playing in relief of redshirt freshman Robert Marve, true freshman quarterback Jacory Harris had looked incapable of leading a last-ditch drive.

But that he did. Escaping the pocket to his left each time, Harris converted a third-and-13 from the 2 with a sideline connection to Sam Shields, and a third-and-15 from Virginia's 26 with a touchdown pass to freshman Laron Byrd.

"That's his game," Cavaliers nose guard Nate Collins said of Harris, "and we talked about it all week. 'We've got to keep the quarterback in the pocket.' "

The touchdown was the darndest thing you'll see for a while. First a stumbling Byron Glaspy and then Vic Hall interfered with Byrd, who still managed to snare the floater in the end zone with 55 seconds left.

"I thought it was one of those anything-can-happen plays," Groh said.

The game's conclusion was even more deflating. After Harris' 9-yard scoring pass to Aldarius Johnson to open overtime, Virginia's Cedric Peerman took a handoff and burst off the right side for nearly a 10-yard gain.

But backup safety Lovon Ponder stripped Peerman, and linebacker Romeo Davis recovered to end the game. Never before had Peerman, a senior, lost a fumble as a Cavalier.

"Cedric's the leader, the heart of the team," cornerback Chase Minnifield said. "Nobody's mad at Cedric. As he goes, we go."

No doubt, and the hunch here is that Peerman responds in a big way next week at Wake Forest. Question is, will his teammates join him?

The Cavaliers have lived on the ledge for the better part of two seasons now, and to their credit they've rarely gone "splat" on the pavement. How will they react now? How will they deal with the gnawing realization that any one of six or so plays could have changed their fate?

Perhaps most important, in an ACC in which every game figures to be a taffy pull, how will Virginia react in its next taut game?

"You gotta live with it," Groh said of the defeat. "That's what competitive sports is about."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at For more from Teel, read his blog at

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