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Virginia blows 20-point lead, but escapes with win over Indiana on last-second FG
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Last season, Virginia didn’t win on the road because of second-half meltdowns.
Coach Mike London vowed to fight that negative mentality, bringing in a new strength and conditioning coach and dividing preseason workouts into four “quarters.”
Saturday night was the Cavaliers’ first opportunity to act on those lessons, and the early results were not promising.
Leading by 20 points in the third quarter, Virginia watched Indiana storm back with 28 unanswered points. That would have been curtains for previous Cavs teams. This one held on for a dramatic 34-31 victory.
A day of growing pains ended with on a positive note for U.Va. quarterback Michael Rocco. He struggled under pressure in the second half, but found a connection with Matt Snyder (Deep Run High School) on the game-tying drive, targeting him on four consecutive passes before Perry Jones plowed in with the tying score.
Defensive end Cam Johnson took over from there, sacking Hoosiers quarterback Edward Wright-Baker and forcing a fumble that led to a winning field goal, which Robert Randolph punched through from 33 yards out.
It was a triumph of will that helped to banish last season’s negativity.
“I think we had the ability to win last year,” tight end Paul Freedman said. “But I don’t know if we would have shut down, honestly.”
London alluded to that as well, saying that in the past his team “probably would have given up or tucked and said, ‘Ah, what the heck.’ But these guys kept on playing.”
First, though, there was a scare for Virginia fans as the Cavaliers started to unravel late in the game.
Freshman Darius Jennings tried to catch a kickoff that would have gone out of bounds in the third quarter, nearly leading to a safety against Rocco. Rocco, who had been protected in his first six quarters as a college starter, was subjected to repeated second-half pressure, and future opponents will no doubt notice how effective it was.
Indiana’s fans then came alive when a Hoosiers punt hit one of the U.Va. players, giving Indiana the ball at Virginia’s 19 after a controversial video review. After cutting the lead to six, Virginia committed another costly mistake.
Running back Kevin Parks left with a sprained ankle, and the next play was a handoff to Perry Jones, who fumbled the ball. Lawrence Barnett took it 54 yards to give Indiana the lead. The young Hoosiers (0-2), who struggled against Ball State in week one, suddenly took on an air of confidence.
It was the opposite feeling for Virginia’s players, who repeated the storyline that dominated last fall. Rocco threw another interception, and Virginia (2-0) looked shaky.
“After I fumbled the ball and they scored, my teammates made sure that I kept high spirits, because we knew what we were capable of,” Jones said.
The junior bounded into the end zone a few minutes later, while Freedman caught the two-point conversion that tied the game.
Indiana opted to go for a late score, but neglected to pick up Johnson, one of Virginia’s top defenders.
“They left me unblocked, and I tried to come in and make a play,” the senior said. “I think it was the first time all day.”
Looking for a repeat of last week’s game, when Virginia broke William and Mary’s back out of the gate, the Cavaliers were unable to deliver.
Instead, London was able to lay another brick in the building of a program. The Cavaliers no longer want to be associated with late-game collapses.
“You can point to this for future reference,” London said. “As long as you continue trying to forge ahead and make positive things happen for you, you can come out on top.”
• Read Michael Phillips’ blog at: http://www2.timesdispatch.com/list/sports-college-uva/
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