- - Saturday, November 12, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Find a list of nasty, physical ACC rivalries, and it’s not likely to contain Virginia-Duke. Perhaps it’s time for a revision.

A controversial call early set the tone for a chippy day that ended with Duke coach David Cutcliffe getting in Virginia coach Mike London’s face after a 31-21 Cavaliers’ victory Saturday.

Cutcliffe’s assistants pulled him off before it could escalate to Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz levels, but the moment was a fitting end to a day of trash talk both ways.

“There was maybe too much talking from both sides,” London said. “It was emotional — a lot of things at stake, a lot of things on the line.”

It ended with Virginia’s seniors claiming their first victory against Duke in four tries as the Cavaliers improved to 7-3 and guaranteed a winning season.

Games against North Carolina and Maryland are always intense, but U.Va. center Anthony Mihota agreed this one may have taken the cake for nastiness.

“It did, because of the fact that we hadn’t beat them in three years,” he said. “We knew that we should beat them, and going into it we really wanted to establish our dominance.”

Cutcliffe wouldn’t elaborate on his gripes after the game, but as he complained about the jawing during the postgame handshake, London yelled back that it “went both ways.”

The Wahoos perceived that two key pass interference calls went against them, first when Corey Mosley stopped a fourth-down pass to the end zone. Later, Chase Minnifield had what would have been his second interception taken away when it was ruled that he pushed off of the Duke receiver.

“You agree to disagree on things like that,” London said of the call against Mosley. “I thought it was very … let’s put it this way: I disagreed with it.”

The game’s non-controversial moments were filled with key mistakes by the Blue Devils.

Receiver Donovan Varner dropped open passes three different times, and Duke stubbornly stuck with the run even after it quit working, staying on the ground at a nearly 2:1 ratio in the third quarter.

Virginia found a way to maintain balance, watching Duke put nine defenders towards stopping the run but continuing to have success on the ground. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said that if it weren’t for incompletions, things could have been even better.

“We knew they were going to put nine in the box, but we tried to run it anyway at times,” Lazor said. “I think the most glaring thing is that we missed some real close ones down the field that could have busted it open.”

On defense, Cam Johnson had his way with the Duke offensive line. Teammate Matt Conrath chipped in with a blocked field goal.

The Blue Devils stayed in the game, though, and took over in U.Va. territory with 4:16 to play, down by 10.

Quarterback Sean Renfree tripped on a third-down draw play, and a fourth-down pass was caught, but short of the marker.

London said he was pleased to get the victory, but added that the Cavs (7-3, 4-2 ACC) have to clean up the little things before taking on Florida State and Virginia Tech with the ACC Coastal title on the line.

Meanwhile Duke (3-7, 1-5) has been eliminated from bowl contention in a game its coach found contentious.

Cutcliffe’s anger may have been stoked late when U.Va.’s Tim Smith, who was one of the top offenders when it came to talking smack, threw aside a Duke assistant coach after he was pushed into the Blue Devils sideline and no late hit was called.

Wahoos receiver Kris Burd (Matoaca), who caught his first touchdown pass of the season Saturday, joked that Smith is in a league of his own when it comes to chatter.

“Oh yeah, he’s got an anger problem,” Burd said with a laugh. “I love having that guy beside me. He’s willing to go to fight anytime, and he’s a great guy.”

Smith will be back next year, for a rematch that has suddenly transformed into a must-see game.

Read Michael Phillips‘ Virginia blog at timesdispatch.com