CHARLOTTESVILLE — It turns out tight end Jake McGee was actually Michael Rocco's second read on Virginia's last play from scrimmage Saturday against Miami, but it didn't matter. Rocco knew where his final pass was going.
He only needed one target.
Rocco spotted a leaping McGee in the back of the end zone and hit him with a 10-yard pass for a touchdown with six seconds left to lead U.Va. to a wild 41-40 win in a game that featured 902 yards of combined offense. McGee came down with the catch and kept his first landing foot in-bounds for the score that kept U.Va.'s hopes of getting bowl-eligible alive.
"Coming to the line of scrimmage I said, 'Jake, this one is coming to you. Go catch it,' and he did," said Rocco, who started the game and rotated with Phillip Sims for a second straight game. "I kind of knew pre-snap that I was going to throw it high in the back of the end zone, and hopefully he was going to get it."
Rocco, who completed a school single-game record 18 consecutive passes at one point, finished 29 of 37 passing for 300 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He led U.Va. on its longest scoring drive of the season, according to number of plays (16), for the touchdown pass to McGee.
"If it came to me, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be able to make the catch," said McGee, who had linebacker Gionni Paul and safety AJ Highsmith in his vicinity when he made the touchdown grab. "If he threw it to me, I knew I had to go get it. I felt like (the pass) could have been even higher and I would've been able to get it."
The conclusion overshadowed Miami freshman running back Duke Johnson's 368 all-purpose yards, which included 150 yards on 16 carries and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He also had an 8-yard touchdown pass.
U.Va. posted 482 yards, while Miami (5-5 overall, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) had 420 yards. The teams combined for 508 yards in the first half.
U.Va. passed for 388 yards in the game, including 88 from Sims, who was 11 of 14 passing. Johnson helped lead Miami to 233 rushing yards.
While the catch will serve as the lasting image from a game that saw fans rush the field when it was over, U.Va. (4-6, 2-4) needed several memorable breaks on the last drive just to get in scoring position.
After starting at its own 13-yard line with 2:38 left in the game, U.Va. would go on to face fourth-and-8 at its 44. Rocco hit wide receiver Dominique Terrell for a 9-yard gain to get the first down with 1:36 left.
U.Va. again faced a do-or-die situation on fourth-and-7 from Miami's 31 with 1:04 remaining, when Rocco spotted Terrell, who finished with nine catches for 127 yards – both career highs.
Though Terrell couldn't come up with the catch on the second fourth down play, cornerback Thomas Finnie was flagged for a questionable holding penalty that gave U.Va. a first down at Miami's 20. It took U.Va. five more plays to get in the end zone on the decisive pass by Rocco, whose first read on the play was running back Perry Jones on a circle route.
"Whether it is politically correct or not, I feel a tremendous blessing just occurred out there on that field, which is great to see," said U.Va. coach Mike London, whose team must beat North Carolina on Thursday and win Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech to become eligible for a bowl.
"I think (Rocco) and Jake McGee are best friends. That's probably why Jake got so many catches. (Rocco is) looking out for his best friend."
Miami, which is tied for first place with Georgia Tech in the ACC's Coastal Division, looked to be in prime position to pull out the win in a game that featured five lead changes.
U.Va. trailed 38-35 with 4:19 left when Rocco dropped back on second-and-10 from the Cavaliers' 12. Replays showed he was at the 1, but Rocco was ruled to be standing in the end zone when he was penalized for intentional grounding after being pressured by defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Miami was credited with a safety on the play, which extended its lead to 40-35.
"There was no camera angle that showed the passer out of the end zone," said game referee Tom McCreesh in a statement released after the game.
After the safety, Miami took over again at its own 47 with a chance to put the game away, but U.Va.'s defense forced the Hurricanes to go three-and-out and punt the ball away with 2:45 left. It was U.Va.'s second critical defensive play of the fourth quarter.
With Miami leading 31-28, Miami quarterback Stephen Morris scrambled on second-and-5 from U.Va.'s 24, but cornerback Maurice Canady stripped Morris from behind and recovered the loose ball at U.Va.'s 2 with 13:40 left in the game. Miami went up 38-28 later in the quarter before U.Va. rallied.
"We have been talking about that all season, making an identity for our defense," said U.Va. linebacker Steve Greer, who led the team with 13 tackles. "There were times when we gave up a little more than we wanted to, and we had a couple missed tackles that cost us, but I think we stepped up when we needed to. We gave the offense a chance and they came through."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun