1998: GREATEST COMEBACK IN UVA FOOTBALL HISTORY: UVA 36 VT 32

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1998: GREATEST COMEBACK IN UVA FOOTBALL HISTORY: UVA 36 VT 32




This is my blog, and one of my blogs certainly wouldn't be complete without a little Virginia football history lesson. I was just reminiscing over the greatest comeback in Virginia football history, the 1998 comeback against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Man, was this win a sweet one. It will forever be one of my all-time favorite wins in Virginia football history. No Cavalier fan will ever forget the image of Ahmad Hawkins raising his arms skyward in exultation(pictured above). I wrote an article about this game for a UVA fan site called http://www.thewagononline.com/ a few years back. Here it is:

You know what they always say folks, "There's no I in team." Well, here at thewagononline.com I've decided to be a team player and help shoulder the burden in helping the diehard Wahoo fans get through the misery that is the college football off-season. Now, how exactly am I going to do this?

Well, I thought it would be a great idea to take Cavalier fans on a drive down memory lane and help them relive some of the most memorable games in Cavalier football history. Now these games aren't in any particular order or ranking, the order is pretty much random. Of course, ESPN Classic would be better to watch all of these games, but we can call this ESPN Classic-paper. I welcome all the feedback on these and I really want to know what think what fans think of the series, so drop me an e-mail. Thanks and I hope you enjoy!

The first contest I've chosen to recap is a game that certainly ranks amongst the top 5 in the greatest victories in Virginia football history. Nothing will ever top the game in 1995 when Virginia became the first team to knock off Florida State, but this one certainly ranks up there high on the ladder. If there was a measurement of how sweet a victory could be, many Wahoo fans would label this one as the sweetest simply because it came against their hated rival, the Virginia Tech Hokies.

It was November 28, 1998 and the Cavaliers strolled into the always hostile Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. to battle the Hokies for possession of the Commonwealth Cup. For those of you that have been away from planet earth for a while, the Virginia Tech-Virginia rivalry is one of the most intense in all of college football. Simply put, when these two teams prepare to tangle, it gets ugly because it's a game that has been known to separate family members.

The Hokies jumped all over the Cavaliers early in this one and after Shyrone Stith dashed his way 51 yards to the end zone, Virginia Tech already had a 10-0 lead over the 'Hoos with 7:34 remaining in the 1st quarter. Things wouldn't get any better for the Cavaliers after star tailback Thomas Jones coughed up the football on the ensuing possession. Lorenzo Ferguson recovered the ball for the Hokies at the Cavalier's 16-yard line, giving the Hokies a very short field. Three plays later, the game appeared to have all the makings of a rout in front a hostile Hokie crowd when Lamont Pegues punched the ball across the goal line, giving Virginia Tech a decisive 17-0 advantage.

The next drive the Cavaliers finally gave their fans something to cheer about. Signal-caller Aaron Brooks hooked up with receiver Terrence Wilkins for two big gains to set up a Thomas Jones touchdown plunge to bring the score to 17-7. If Cavalier fans were beginning to think they could get back in this one, they were proven wrong late in the 2nd quarter. The Cavaliers had the ball, 2nd and 10 from their own 29 when Aaron Brooks fired a pass that found the hands of Hokie cornerback Loren Johnson, who weaved his way back to the Cavalier 8 yard line. Taking advantage of yet another short field, quarterback Al Clark stretched the Hokie lead to 26-7 after his 1-yard run to pay dirt. Virginia Tech failed to convert on the two-point conversion, but kicker Shayne Graham tacked on a 24-yard field goal to end the 1st half, giving the Hokies a 29-7 lead heading into the locker room.

Virginia fans were simply stunned as their beloved Cavaliers were trailing by 22 points at halftime. If there was going to be a comeback, history certainly wasn't on their side as the biggest comeback the Cavaliers had previously mounted was when they beat Duke in 1995 after trailing 21-3. Many Cavalier fans, including my father, were disgusted and at halftime they couldn't bear to watch their team suffer any longer. It was over they thought, they had just been dealt another shellacking by the Hokies. I was one of the few Cavalier fans who continued to hold out hope and continued to watch the game on television that day.

Cavalier fans knew that if their team was going to have any chance of pulling off the miraculous victory that they would need a stunning performance from their streaky, but talented signal-caller in the second half. On their first drive of the second half, things were once again looking bleak for Aaron Brooks and company when they had the ball 3rd and 17 from their own 39 yard line. Then Brooks connected with a streaking Terrence Wilkins for a 30-yard gain to give the Cavaliers excellent field position at the Virginia Tech 31 yard line. Head coach George Welsh then took a rare gamble when he decided to go for it when the 'Hoos had the ball, 4th and 3 from the 24 yard line. The gamble paid huge dividends as Aaron Brooks lofted a pass to receiver Kevin Coffey, who dashed 24 yards to the end zone to close the lead to 29-14 with 10:07 left in the 3rd quarter.

During the ensuing possession, Virginia Tech gift wrapped an opportunity for the Cavaliers by going for it on fourth down from their own 18 yard line. The Cavalier defense stuffed the Hokies and it seemed as if the 'Hoos were going to be back in this one much faster than many had thought. Not so fast, said Aaron Brooks, who coughed up the football at the 2-yard line, blowing a prime scoring opportunity for his team. The Hokies then used their ground attack to find themselves in a 3rd and 11 from their own 46. Virginia linebacker Byron Thweatt then picked off an errant Al Clark pass and raced to the end zone, pulling the Cavaliers to within eight points, 29-21 with 2:33 left in the 3rd quarter. At the beginning of the 4th quarter the Hokies mounted a drive that was capped by a 46-yard field goal by Shayne Graham. The score now stood at 32-21 with 12:12 left in the contest.

The Cavaliers once again turned to signal caller Aaron Brooks, as he'd been providing the heroics for much of the contest. He was only beginning to heat up for the 'Hoos and he saved the real sizzle for the stretch run. The Cavaliers had the ball 1st and 10 from the Virginia Tech 44 yard line when Kevin Coffey reeled in a Brooks pass for a 26-yard gain to the Hokie 18. The very next play Brooks lobbed a pass into the end zone, where Jones leaped into the sky, fully extended his body, and crashed back down to the turf with the football wrapped up in his arms.


Thomas Jones makes a miraculous grab!

Brooks then rushed into the end zone for the two-point conversion, closing the gap to 32-29 with 7:02 left to play. Virginia Tech began to put together a drive into Virginia territory late in the contest, but Byron Thweatt and the Cavalier defense stiffened once again, allowing the 'Hoos one last chance to pull off the unfathomable.

The Virginia offense had the ball 1st and 10 from their own 7 yard line with 3:21 remaining in the game. If the remarkable comeback was going to be completed, the Hokies were going to make the Cavaliers go the distance.

Ahmad Hawkins enshrines himself in UVa football history.

Aaron Brooks once again summoned his best throws when his team needed them the most, completing passes to Casey Crawford and Kevin Coffey to march his Cavaliers to the Virginia Tech 47 yard line with a little more than 2 minutes left in the game. The very next play Aaron Brooks zinged a pass to Ahmad Hawkins at the 25 yard line. Hawkins shook Hokie corner Anthony Midget by spinning to the outside and then raced down the sideline to the end zone for the winning touchdown, as it completed the Cavaliers 36-32 comeback victory. Once Hawkins arrived in the end zone, he dropped to his knees, tilted his head back, and stretched his arms skyward in exultation before a stunned Hokie crowd.

The next drive for Virginia Tech resulted in an interception by linebacker Wali Rainer and Virginia ran out the clock. The Cavaliers certainly couldn't have completed the remarkable comeback without their talented signal-caller, Aaron Brooks, who completed 19 of his 32 passes for 345 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 interception. "We don't win without a great quarterback performance," said Virginia head coach George Welsh. The 22-point comeback is still the greatest comeback in Cavalier history and that record will likely stand for quite some time. The game marked one of the best performances in Virginia athletics history and is a game that Cavalier fans won't soon forget. The image of Ahmad Hawkins raising his arms skyward is one that still brings a smile to Cavalier fans' faces. Not only was the comeback unbelievable, but it was against the bitterly detested Virginia Tech Hokies. That is exactly why the 1998 Virginia Tech game ranks among one of the sweetest of all-time for Cavalier fans.

This is The Great Entertainer, saying goodbye for now and as always ask yourselves, "Are you not entertained?!"
 
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