A week after a performance that showed their potential, Virginia's Cavaliers put together an effort on Saturday that exemplified their heart. After giving up a safety with 4:19 left and trailing by five, UVa's defense got the stop it needed and the offense did the rest. That unit marched 87 yards for the game-winning touchdown to stun Coastal Division leading Miami 41-40.
UVa (4-6, 2-4 ACC) engineered that go-ahead, 16-play drive thanks in large part to the consistency and calm of Michael Rocco, who set the school record with 18 consecutive completions on the day. He finished 29 of 37 for 300 yards and four touchdowns, none bigger than his final one: A 10-yard completion to (who else?) Jake McGee that put the Hoos up to stay.
"I think that Michael has done an outstanding job the last couple games," head coach Mike London said after the game of Rocco, who got his first start in five games. "We talk about how selfless he is. He's a team player. He wants to win...He has a great understanding of the offense."
These two teams were pretty equally matched. UVa led 21-14 after one quarter, with Rocco throwing two touchdowns (a 7-yard strike to Miles Gooch and a 6 yarder to Darius Jennings) and fellow signal caller Phillip Sims adding another on the ground.
UVa's 21 first-quarter points were the most the Hoos have scored in the opening stanza since a 27-point quarter on Sept. 29, 2007 in a 44-14 win over Pitt. They were also the most in any quarter since scoring 21 in the second against ECU, a game Virginia won 35-20 on Oct. 11, 2008.
But the Wahoos also let Duke Johnson get loose and his play may have solidified the conference's rookie of the year award. He passed for his first-ever TD in the first quarter, an 8-yard pass to Allen Hurns that tied the game, and then returned a kickoff 95 yards for another score to tie it with 5:21 left in the opening quarter.
Hurns caught another TD just after the second quarter began, this time a 12-yard pass from quarterback Stephen Morris, who finished the day 17 of 25 for 179 yards and three scores
After the Hurricanes (5-5, 4-3) added a Jake Wieclaw field goal from 30 yards out with 8:16 left in the first half, UVa's Kevin Parks found paydirt with 4:00 left until halftime.
"I thought at halftime both quarterbacks were playing very well," UVa offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "They were seeing the defense very well. They were getting the ball off on time and weren't letting the pressure get to them."
But the game's offensive explosion simmered down after intermission, as Morris' 9-yard pass to Clive Walford for a TD was the lone score in the third quarter. It gave Miami a 31-28 lead, an advantage the Canes added to early in the fourth when Morris hooked up with Phillip Dorsett for a 35-yard score with 11:38 left to play. It left the Hoos with a 10-point deficit to overcome.
And that's what the Rocco-led Cavaliers did. A 12-play drive that covered 71 yards was capped by Rocco's third TD of the day and second to Jennings, this time for 5 yards with 5:33 left.
That set the stage for the safety that almost derailed Virginia's chances, when Rocco, under pressure up the middle and to his left, attempted to pass out in the flat. But he was not only ruled to have been in the end zone but also to be without a receiver in the area. The flag for intentional grounding gave Miami a five-point lead and the ball back.
Johnson, on the ensuing free kick, gave his Hurricanes 33 yards on the return, as the offense set up shop at its own 47-yard line. Following an incompletion, Johnson rushed for a pair of yards on second down and was tackled by Demetrious Nicholson and Daquan Romero. On third down, it was Johnson again, this time stopped for a 2-yard gain by LaRoy Reynolds and Steve Greer. When UVa called timeout with 2:45 left on the clock, Miami was setting up for a 4th and 4 and a 34-yard punt.
Rocco was incomplete on the first play of the winning drive to Perry Jones but he followed that with completions to Dominique Terrell for 28 yards, McGee for 3, and then later Terrell again for 9. That gave Virginia a 1st and 10 from Miami's 47-yard line.
Several plays later, UVa had a 3rd and 15 from the 39 and Rocco found Jones for about half of it. With the game on the line on a 4th and 7 from the 31, the Cavaliers drew a flag for defensive holding that kept their comeback hopes alive.
It set up a thrilling final minute where Rocco and McGee may have etched their name in Wahoo lore. Rocco's pass to the back of the end zone to McGee wasn't pretty but it was perfect, and McGee went to the turf after not only catching the pass but getting a foot in.
"Coming to the line of scrimmage I said, 'Jake, this one is coming to you, go catch it.' And he did," Rocco recalled. "I kind of knew pre-snap that I was going to throw it high in the back of the endzone and hopefully he was going to get it.
"He is the [primary] whenever there is six seconds on the clock and you need a touchdown. We're taught, especially in the red zone, that if you are not going to hit them right on the numbers that you have to put it high where the defense can't get it and on the back line where your guy can get it so that's what I tried to do."
"It was a little nerve-racking for me until I saw it the first time [on the stadium replay]," McGee said with a smile. "If it came to me, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be able to make the catch. If he threw it to me, I knew I had to go get it. I felt like it could have been even higher and I would've been able to get it."
In the win, which evened the series between these two teams at 5-5, UVa outgained Miami 482 to 420 and controlled the ball 36:14 to 23:46. It was also the third-highest scoring one-point game in ACC history.
Rocco's 18-straight completions broke Matt Blundin's record of 14 set against Duke in 1991. But in addition to that mark, he also had a career-high four TDs and moved ahead of former great Mike Groh on UVa's all-time passing yards list (4,399 to Groh's 4,366).
McGee finished with four catches for 26 yards, one of several Cavaliers to have memorable days. Terrell had a career highs in receptions (nine) and yards (127). Jennings adding seven catches (a career high) for 57 yards to go along with his two TDs (also a career high). Parks, meanwhile, carried the load for the UVa running game, rushing for 42 yards on 12 carries.
The back-to-back UVa wins set up an intriguing Thursday-night matchup against rival North Carolina in a game that will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. and be televised nationally by ESPN. On Saturday, the Tar Heels fell to 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the ACC following a 68-50 loss at home to Georgia Tech.