MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. --—The Virginia Cavaliers were in the midst of letting this slip away.
After leading the entire game, the Cavaliers were on the verge of allowing the Miami Hurricanes to the tie score. But a key defensive stand late in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference in the Cavaliers' 28-21 victory Thursday at Sun Life Stadium. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak in ACC road games.
The Cavaliers are a win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
"I think it has to speak for our character as a team," Virginia linebacker Steve Greer said. "We want to come down in the last minute and put everything out on the field."
The Hurricanes were in position to force overtime. Facing a 4th-and-2, they handed off to running back Mike James. He was stopped by junior LaRoy Reynolds for a one-yard loss, giving Virginia possession. The Cavaliers held Miami to 85 yards in 28 carries, including limiting running back Lamar Miller to 70 yards. Miller is the second-leading rusher in the ACC.
"We had to stop the run for sure," Virginia coach Mike London said. "That was the main focal point of the game plan this week and make them throw the ball. They threw the ball and made some great catches, but guys did a great job on the things that had given us problems and making plays in those situations."
Virginia, which out-gained UM 470-432, dominated the early stages by scoring the game's first 17 points.
The Cavaliers opened the scoring with a perfectly executed wide receiver screen pass from quarterback Michael Rocco to Darius Jennings that covered 53 yards. Rocco completed 11 of 20 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was a pass made by running back Perry Jones that broke things open.
The Cavaliers, who already had executed a successful fake field goal, once again caught the Hurricanes off guard. This time it came in the form of a halfback option.
Jones took the pitch and found an open Tim Smith, who beat Hurricanes safety Ray Ray Armstrong for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 17-0 with 4:15 remaining in the half.
"He said he was going to call it when he thought it was right," Jones said. "Going into this game, he said we were going to run it no matter what. He was just waiting for the right time to call it and he picked it."
With momentum in their favor, the Cavaliers allowed it to sway on the final possession of the half. The Hurricanes, who lacked offensive punch for most of the half, awakened in time to make it a game before intermission.
Miami (4-4, 2-3) went 68 yards in eight plays, capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown from Harris to receiver Tommy Streeter.
The score was the beginning of the game becoming tighter, mostly because Virginia wasted opportunities. The Cavaliers moved the ball with ease on the opening drive of the second half, but could only come away with a 24-yard field by Randolph to make it 20-7.
After forcing a UM punt, Virginia then blew a chance to extend the lead on the next possession. The Cavaliers again drove the field only to stall inside the 20. This time, Randolph missed a 32-yard field goal, giving the Hurricanes life.
Miami went 80 yards in five plays, with Harris hitting Streeter for a 51-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-14 with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. Virginia responded with another big play from Jones. He turned a short slant route into a 78-yard touchdown pass, beating UM linebacker Jimmy Gaines and putting the Cavaliers back ahead by two touchdowns.
"We've been working on that since training camp," Jones said. "Me and Rocco, we talk about if a linebacker comes out there with me one-on-one, ... he's just looks for me to beat him."