TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Virginia’s season has had no shortage of magical moments. Saturday night, the ante was raised.
The Cavaliers wrapped up one of the most bizarre, and unexpected, victories of the season several minutes after the clock expired. Florida State, a 17-point favorite, instead lost 14-13 to the Wahoos on a missed last-second field goal.
“It might be one of the best wins I’ve been involved with my whole coaching career — even the championship with Richmond,” coach Mike London said. “Because it’s one of those things, that these guys, they were not going to be denied. We were going to find a way to keep playing and winning.”
They had to play a little longer than expected.
First, little-used cornerback Drequan Hoskey got his hand on what would have been a game-winning catch for the Seminoles. He had entered in the third quarter for the injured Dom Joseph.
“I saw the ball, and I saw his eyes get big,” said Hoskey, a Henrico graduate. “I knew they’d throw at me since I just came in the game. I felt a little nervous, but I knew I had to make the play.”
Then FSU completed a pass with 8 seconds remaining, and didn’t have enough time to get the field goal unit on the field. With victory in hand, Virginia left the field. They were brought back, though.
“I had run into the tunnel,” offensive lineman Morgan Moses said. “I had waved to my mom.”
After a replay official looked at the pass for more than four minutes to determine if it was actually completed, the crowd of 77,178 came to life again. The call was overturned.
The officials did more than to try to derail U.Va.’s shocking upset. They moved the field goal up after saying that the Cavaliers made a “fake hiking noise,” attempting to distract the Seminoles. Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said he had no clue what the refs were referring to.
But the 42-yard kick missed wide left, and U.Va. emerged victorious — this time for real.
Virginia’s 8-3 season has mostly been on the backs of the Cavaliers’ running backs. Saturday night, Michael Rocco returned the favor in a big way. The quarterback didn’t turn the ball over, leading the offense all night.
“He’s starting to prove [his worth] over and over,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “In this type of game, I think that’s a critical part of the game, not turning the ball over.”
Rocco led a game-winning drive with under two minutes remaining. Running back Kevin Parks punched in the winning score with 1:16 remaining, but it was Rocco who set him up.
A 34-yard pass to Tim Smith was followed by a play-action pass to Perry Jones, and the stout Seminoles defense had no answers.
Virginia’s defense still had to make one final stand, an extended one because of an ankle injury suffered by Billy Schautz, a player who had a huge hand in the victory to that point. He was carted off the field, but left on the plane home with the team.
Cam Johnson made a fourth-down stop to seemingly win the game, but he did so with a face mask that gave the Seminoles an automatic first down, setting up the late theatrics.
Emotions were through the roof on the sideline.
“I couldn’t even tell you,” offensive lineman Oday Aboushi said. “I lost my breath. Everything was just spinning.”
For 60 minutes, it was a gritty, hard-fought game between two teams on the rise, decided in the final minutes.
In other words, it was everything the Virginia-Florida State series hasn’t been.
The Cavaliers (8-3, 5-2 ACC) not only set up a winner-take-all clash with Virginia Tech for the ACC Coastal title, they also likely improved their spot when bowl selections are doled out.
For Rocco, it was a game weeks in the making. The Seminoles put their efforts into defending the run, and were wildly successful. U.Va. had just 34 rushing yards through three quarters.
Rocco, meanwhile, made key completions to keep drives alive. And when the situation demanded it in the fourth quarter, he lowered his shoulder and took a big hit, knowing he needed to in order to get a drive-saving first down.
That drive culminated in a fourth and 2 near midfield, with 8 minutes remaining in the game. Coach Mike London elected to punt the ball away.
Florida State responded by slowly eating up the remaining game time. The Seminoles were on the verge of a game-icing field goal, but Steve Greer came up with a clutch third-down sack to force a punt. Greer had two sacks in the game, his first since the 2009 season.
Because of that, Virginia got the ball back, and Rocco was able to engineer his heroics.
Throughout the game, the Wahoos’ defense was able to get repeated pressure on FSU quarterback EJ Manuel. Johnson, Schautz and Jake Snyder (Deep Run) came rushing in from the ends and disrupted the Seminoles’ offense.
Schautz forced Manuel to fumble in the red zone, a play that turned into the game’s first scoring drive, as Jones caught a third-down pass in the end zone to start the second quarter.
Florida State answered with a drive that featured Manuel, as he scampered his way to three first downs and then completed a touchdown pass.
Those were his most effective moments of the day, though, and the best the Seminoles could muster after that was a pair of field goals, including one where they had first and goal from the 1, but had to settle for three points.
It was a big win for the Cavaliers’ defense, which kept the game within one touchdown at all times. That score arrived in the final minutes.
Virginia has broken negative streaks all season. As the Cavaliers left town, with their first Tallahassee victory in hand, this one may have been the sweetest yet.
Read Michael Phillips’ U.Va. blog at Times-Dispatch.com