Virginia's Biggest Letdown Games in the Modern Era
This weekend Virginia will try to build on the momentum it created by taking down the previously undefeated Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 24-21 last week.
The Cavaliers and particularly their head coach Mike London know that beating the 12th ranked team in the country means little if they cannot continue to win. So even with a disappointing North Carolina State coming into Charlottesville, Virginia should not be taking the Wolfpack lightly.
Of course, we have all heard that one before.
Virginia has made a history of being unable to string together victories when they needed them most. They have shown inconsistency which has frustrated fans and led to many gray hairs for everyone involved.
While I am not looking forward to a letdown game where Virginia throws away their season with a bad loss this weekend, I am also not putting it past them.
Therefore, in an attempt to use some reverse psychology, let us examine the worst letdown games of the modern era.
1996: Virginia Tech (26-9)
Ask any Virginia fan and they will tell you that one of the best wins in program history is when the Cavaliers came back from the dead to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 20-17.
Mack Brown was coaching North Carolina at the time and had the team in the Top 10. He also had the team at the precipice of victory with a 17-3 lead and the ball inside the 10-yard line of Virginia.
An interception returned for a touchdown sparked a huge comeback and allowed Virginia to knock their rivals off their pedestal.
However, that momentum of a great comeback was dashed the following game when No. 20 Virginia was crushed at Lane Stadium by the No. 17 Virginia Tech Hokies.
Losing to the boys from Blacksburg was not that disappointing considering the Hokies finished the season 10-2. Losing 26-9 in a game where Virginia could only muster four field goals in 60 minutes was deflating.
Virginia went on to lose to Miami in the Carquest Bowl 31-21. North Carolina lost their head coach Mack Brown to Texas. Virginia Tech began to rise in national prominence and become a thorn in the side of Cavalier fans.
2008: Miami (24-17)
The 2008 season was a ridiculous rollercoaster for the Cavaliers.
The year started out with a 1-3 record in September. Virginia lost 31-3 at Duke and kicked the starting quarterback Pete Lalich off the team.
Unknown Marc Verica stepped into the void and turned things around in miraculous fashion.
The Cavaliers went 4-0 in October, defeating two ranked teams North Carolina and Georgia Tech, in consecutive weeks.
Had coach Al Groh created a miracle season?
Virginia was now just one win away from being bowl eligible and Miami looked to be the team that was going to provide.
The Cavaliers had a 17-10 lead going into halftime and held onto it for virtually the entire second half. Miami marched down the field in a long seven minute drive to tie the game, but Verica looked to be a hero again and marched Virginia near field-goal range until a costly fumble at the Miami 32-yard line gave the Hurricanes the ball back.
In overtime, another fumble cost Virginia the game and the season spiraled out of control with a winless November.
If Verica had simply held onto the ball, Virginia would have had a chance to win the game and become bowl eligible. Instead, Virginia has not had a winning season since 2007 and really never could build on the momentum of October 2008.
2010: Duke (55-48)
Virginia's newest head coach had a signature win prior to last week's big victory over Georgia Tech.
The Cavaliers stunned the ACC when they took down the Miami Hurricanes at home in 2010.
Granted, Virginia needed to hold on for dear life to preserve the victory but that win looked to put the team back on track and gave them hope for a bowl game.
Virginia's next opponent were the Duke Blue Devils, a team that not only had been the perennial cellar dweller of the conference but was a team that had beaten the Cavaliers the past two seasons.
Virginia's pride was on the line, obviously they would be ready to play and add to their season's momentum.
Instead, Virginia gave up 55 points in one of the more humiliating games in recent memory.
Virginia had never lost a game when they scored more than 38 points, they had scored 48 in this contest and easily could have won if they had just stopped the Blue Devils from converting a 4th-and-20.
Instead, quarterback Sean Renfree connected and Virginia was facing their third consecutive loss to the only team that could match the pain Cavalier fans have felt the past few seasons.
This victory took the wind out of the sails of the S.S. Virginia, leading to a winless November for the third straight year.
Coach London knows that this cannot happen again if he wants to turn the program around in 2011.
2007: North Carolina State (29-24)
The 2007 season was a landmark year for many reasons.
Virginia made the Gator Bowl, it's first New Year's Day Bowl in a decade.
The Cavaliers posted nine wins, the second most in school history.
Virginia also had five wins by two points or less, an NCAA record.
They also had some horrible losses. Virginia started the year with a 23-3 loss to Wyoming.
However, with a few miracles, Chris Long and the Power of Orange, Virginia found ways to win games.
The Cavaliers won seven games in a row after losing their opener and appeared to be in good shape against a North Carolina State team that had failed to win a single ACC game up to this point.
Well that plan fell apart when Virginia lost 29-24.
Giving up over 400 yards to the 10th ranked scoring offense in the ACC was pretty inexcusable.
Winning games they should not have won was one thing, but losing to one of the few teams Virginia was better than was quite another story.
That loss came fresh of the heels of an impressive Saturday night victory against Maryland 18-17. With a national spotlight, Virginia could not back up their success.
Virginia went on to the Gator Bowl where a key injury to Jameel Sewell cost them the game against Texas Tech.
1998 Peach Bowl: Georgia (35-33)
Virginia came into the 1998 Peach Bowl rolling.
They had just completed one of the greatest comebacks ever when they took a 29-7 deficit at the half and went on to defeat their arch-rival Virginia Tech 36-32 in Lane Stadium.
The image of Ahmad Hawkins celebrating in the end zone is an iconic image for Cavalier fans.
It also completed a regular season where the Cavaliers were 9-2 and their lone losses were to teams with a combined record of 22-4.
Virginia had one of the best seasons in school history and looked to put the exclamation point on it with a signature victory over SEC foe Georgia, the same team they had beaten in the 1995 Peach Bowl.
The Cavaliers had a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, only to see it all evaporate in the fourth quarter with a two-yard run by Olandis Gray.
Georgia would add to their lead to make the score 35-27 with just minutes to go before Virginia quarterback Aaron Brooks scrambled 30 yards for a touchdown. Having missed an extra point earlier, the Cavaliers had to go for two and failed.
After miraculously winning the onside kick, it appeared Virginia was in store for another thriller. In 1995 they had blown a similarly big lead only to return the kickoff for a touchdown and win in the final minutes.
The Cavaliers made it into field-goal range but missed the kick wide.
The loss put a sour note on one of the best seasons in recent memory. Knowing that the loss could have been avoided made the injury much more painful.
1985: Navy (17-13)
Head coach George Welsh had finally turned around the dormant Virginia program.
The Cavaliers reached their first ever bowl game in 1984 under Welsh where they defeated Purdue.
Suddenly a team that been a laughing stock was coming off an eight-win season and began 1985 with a big upset of Georgia Tech in its second game. It was one of only two games the Yellow Jackets would lose all season.
Virginia was 2-0 and looked to build on the momentum of the past 14 games with their Top 25 ranking. What a better opponent to play than Navy, coach Welsh's previous team.
Virginia had won three of the previous four meetings with the Midshipmen, but not this time.
The Cavaliers lost 17-14 in a stinging loss for Welsh and the team. Navy had lost all three games opening the season, but by a combined eight points. They were bitter and hungry for a win.
The win was huge for Navy but a tough loss for Virginia fans.
2005: North Carolina (7-5)
Was there really a doubt?
Virginia had an improbably victory against fourth-ranked Florida State, saving a season that appeared lost after back-to-back losses in the ACC.
Cavalier quarterback Marques Hagans ran all over the place, confusing the Seminole defenders and putting up 26 points in the process.
The win was a boost for the program, beating Florida State for only the second time in school history and 10 years after their first historic win in the series.
Virginia was back in the Top 25 and taking on a North Carolina team that was almost inept on offense.
What happened was one of the worst football games ever played.
7-5 is a baseball score, not a football result.
Virginia looked completely unprepared for the game and played sloppy. The loss was not only disheartening but angered the fan base.
That year, Virginia had a chance to win the Coastal title but threw away their chance with an ugly loss in more ways than one.
This loss became the gold standard in futility for Virginia fans and they hope to not have one replace it anytime soon.
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