UVA Football: 10 Greatest Victories in Cavalier History
The Virginia Cavaliers are certainly having a year to remember in 2011.
No one expected the boys in blue and orange to be playing for a berth in the ACC Championship this weekend but that is exactly what is on the line when they take on the No. 5 Virginia Tech Hokies.
They would not have been in this situation without a statement victory on the road against the Florida State Seminoles, a team that had been riding high on a five-game winning streak and looked to be reasserting itself as a team to be reckoned with.
The dramatic victory has already been labeled as one of the best games in school history, but where does it rank in the modern era of Virginia football?
That is what this list entails: ranking the most memorable, significant, defining victories since the beginning of the George Welsh era in the early 1980s.
Let the debate begin.
Honorable Mention: Virginia 48 Miami 0 (2007)
Virginia came into Coral Gables with luck on their side. The Cavaliers had won an NCAA record five games by two points or less and were considered one of the weakest two-loss teams in the country.
The Cavaliers were led by the dynamic Chris Long at defensive end, who had lit up Maryland for an 18-17 victory on the road in prime time and had won eight of their last nine games.
However, the Miami Hurricanes were playing in the last ever game to be played at the Orange Bowl and the entire stadium was filled with former great players that helped turn this program into "The U."
Virginia was supposed to play the role of the Washington Generals but instead put forth one of the most dominant performances in school history.
The Cavaliers excelled in all phases of the game, scoring a season-high 48 points, holding Miami to only 189 yards of total offense and even blocking a punt.
The fans were stunned and Virginia pulled off its first-ever victory in the Sunshine State.
The win may have been against a wounded Miami team, but it was one that forever gave Virginia confidence they could go toe-to-toe with one of the prouder programs in football.
It also gave the Cavaliers nine wins and a chance to play for the Coastal title the following week at home.
Honorable Mention: Virginia 49 Duke 28 (1989)
Usually a victory against Duke is not all that impressive, but it certainly is when Steve Spurrier is roaming the sideline.
Virginia coach George Welsh and Spurrier had been talking smack to each other before the game but quarterback Shawn Moore would later let his arm do the talking.
After two impressive victories on the road against Penn State and Georgia Tech, Virginia came home to humble Duke and make Spurrier eat his words with a 49-28 thrashing.
The convincing win propelled Virginia to its first ever 10-win season and Virginia’s first-ever ACC Championship in football.
10. Virginia 26 FSU 21 (2005)
Everyone partied like it was 1995. The 10-year anniversary for the Cavaliers was just as memorable (though not as significant) as the first time around.
There would be no controversy as to who won this game between the Virginia Cavaliers and the fourth-ranked, undefeated Seminoles. The only real question was whether quarterback Marques Hagans had put on a better performance in his life.
Hagans simply could not be stopped; his ability to scramble left coach Bobby Bowden in shock as the Cavaliers posted 21 points in the first half.
Three interceptions by Drew Weatherford proved to be the difference, including one in the final minute which sealed an improbable victory for Virginia and sent the fans onto the field.
Although the Seminoles eventually took the ACC title that year and played in the Orange Bowl, Florida State never has looked quite the same since then. That loss triggered many more inexplicable losses and a tailspin that coach Jimbo Fisher is trying to avoid in restoring his program to an elite level.
9. Virginia 48 West Virginia 22 (2002)
The best bowl game of the Al Groh era would have to be the Continental Tire Bowl where the Cavaliers put on a great show against the 15th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers. Wali Lundy had a tremendous game for Virginia as a freshman scoring four touchdowns and capping off a magical November.
The Cavaliers were picked to finish next to last in the ACC that season and instead finished in a tie for second just behind the Seminoles of Florida State. This win helped propel Virginia into the offseason with some great momentum behind the arm of ACC Offensive Player of the Year Matt Schaub and Lundy.
The Virginia fans are often maligned but Cavalier faithful showed up en masse for this game, dwarfing the Mountaineer contingent and providing a huge spark. Although Orange Fever has severely cooled in recent years, let us all remember we all used to trust Groh.
8. Virginia 14 Florida State 13 (2011)
The Cavaliers had never won a game in Tallahassee prior to the 2011 season, in fact they had only won once in the Sunshine State in program history.
Well, in 2011 not only did Virginia take down Miami, but they miraculously conquered the Florida State Seminoles in one of the wildest finishes in college football history.
Virginia had built their first bowl team since 2007 based around a solid rushing attack but were up against the top rushing defense in the ACC. The pressure was on quarterback Michael Rocco to carry the load and that is exactly what he did.
With less than two minutes to go, Rocco threw two big passes to Perry Jones and another to Tim Smith that eventually set up the go-ahead scamper by true freshman Kevin Parks with just 76 seconds on the clock.
Florida State looked like they were dead in the water when quarterback E.J. Manuel scrambled around erratically on fourth down, but Cam Johnson's face-mask penalty gave him new life.
A completed pass later ruled incomplete gave Florida State a chance at a field goal that went wide left and Virginia escaped with one of the biggest victories in program history.
The Cavaliers had exorcised some demons in a house of horrors that had tormented them for years. Regardless of Florida State's record, the ability of the Cavaliers to match their physicality was an amazing sign for the future.
7. Virginia 34 Georgia 27 (1995)
The 1995 Peach Bowl is arguably Virginia’s biggest bowl victory in school history. However, most Cavalier fans remember the fact that Virginia almost blew it rather than the victory itself.
Virginia came out guns blazing in the first half to take a 24-6 lead before the Bulldogs and their star wide receiver Hines Ward came blazing back. The Bulldogs were on the verge of tying the game in the final two minutes when a costly interception by Georgia appeared to put the game away.
Virginia responded with an interception of their own, though, and the Bulldogs walked in the end zone.
However, despite the collapse, the Cavaliers answered back on the very next play, taking the kickoff all the way back to the end zone for the win with less than a minute to go.
6. Virginia 37 Texas 13 (1996)
Heartbreak was a constant theme in 1995 for Virginia. Three times the Cavaliers had chances to win, only to lose in the final minute.
When Virginia traveled to Texas, the Longhorns threw a deep ball in the waning seconds and conveniently were given enough time on the clock to nail the game-winning field goal and win 17-16.
The return game in 1996 was a far different story. With Ricky Williams and Priest Holmes in the backfield, the Cavaliers humbled the Longhorns in a 37-13 contest that was not even as close as it sounds.
Tiki Barber rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter in the rain-soaked Scott Stadium. Texas had four turnovers in their first four possessions due to the tough defense of Tiki’s brother, Ronde, and Anthony Poindexter.
The win was magnificent, but so was the moment of watching a top-15 team and national championship contender arrive to Charlottesville. George Welsh mentioned that 10 years ago Texas would not go anywhere near Virginia.
With a performance like that, don’t expect them to come back any time soon.
5. Virginia 20 North Carolina 17 (1996)
Younger fans may not understand, but before the rise of Virginia Tech, Cavalier players knew they had to beat the Tar Heels or face the wrath from fans the next day. UNC were the rivals of significance for many decades, so an amazing comeback in 1996 changed the trajectory of both teams for quite some time.
The Cavaliers had started the season strong but were stumbling from a loss to Clemson when the 8-1, nationally-ranked Tar Heels came into Scott Stadium.
UNC seemed on the verge of a big road victory up 17-3 and driving late in the game. The Tar Heels marched inside the 5 of Virginia before Antwan Harris picked off the ball and ran it all the way back for a 100-yard return.
Quarterback Tim Sherman seized the momentum to score a late touchdown and Rafael Garcia put the final nail in the coffin with a field goal to give Virginia a stunning victory.
The loss cost UNC their chance at the bowl bid they desired and it also ran current Texas coach Mack Brown out of the ACC.
4. Virginia 27 Purdue 24 (1984)
George Welsh came into Virginia knowing that many thought his task impossible. The Cavaliers came from a school that stressed academics so strongly that there was no real dedication to winning in football.
In fact, some believed the UVA job to be a graveyard for coaches, which led Welsh to say that if it is, it sure is a nice graveyard.
The Cavaliers had only two winning seasons the past 30 years before Welsh took over, but in just his third year Virginia did something they had never done in school history: go to a bowl game.
Virginia finished the 1984 season at 8-2-2 and received a bid to play in the Peach Bowl. It was the best Cavalier record in nearly two decades and fans were out in full force to see the Cavaliers in the postseason.
The Cavaliers did better than just show up; they made their first appearance count with a big victory. This moment took Virginia from out of the cellar in the ACC and made them competitive.
It marked a significant change in the attitude and the expectations of the program.
3. Virginia 36 Virginia Tech 32 (1998)
This game in Charlottesville is simply known as “The Comeback.” Trailing 29-7 at half against their arch rivals, the Cavaliers put forth an amazing 29-3 charge on the road to shock the denizens of Lane Stadium.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks found a streaking Ahmad Hawkins down the field and connected with a beautiful lob that let him waltz his way into the end zone with only 2:01 to play.
Hawkins had a signature celebration pose and the look from Hokie coach Frank Beamer only helped cement this as one of the greatest moments to be a Virginia Cavalier fan.
The win left the Cavaliers at 9-2 before they received another bid to the Peach Bowl and allowed Aaron Brooks to cement his legacy as one of the top quarterbacks in school history.
2. Virginia 33 Florida State 28 (1995)
The hostile takeover ended in dramatic fashion before a sell-out crowd.
Before the game, the Florida State Seminoles, ranked second in the country, had never lost in the ACC when they joined a few years earlier. With Danny Kannell behind center and Warrick Dunn in the backfield, who would be so shocked?
In Virginia’s first-ever Thursday night game, and in front of a national audience, the quick feet of Tiki Barber and the efficient arm of quarterback Mike Groh gave Virginia fans hope as they torched the Seminoles early.
However, the game is remembered for its controversial finish, something that Seminole fans will never forget. On the last play, Dunn is stopped near the goal line and even though his helmet clearly makes it, as for the ball…well you can decide for yourself.
FSU would not lose again in the ACC for the next five years; Virginia went on to the Peach Bowl and their second ACC Championship.
It is also the highest-ranked team Virginia has ever beaten.
1. Virginia 20 Clemson 7 (1990)
29-0 became 29-1 in one amazing moment. George Welsh came to Virginia and had done just about everything imaginable. He had captured the 1989 ACC Championship, brought Virginia to the postseason for the first time ever in just his third season and he got them a legitimate Heisman candidate in quarterback Shawn Moore.
In 1990 he filled the last requirement on his list, beating a team that had once referred to the Cavaliers as “white meat.”
Before FSU and the influx of the Big East, Clemson completely dominated the ACC. They represented all that Virginia was not: namely a champion.
That all changed in early September before a raucous crowd. The Cavaliers took down the Tigers in Scott Stadium behind the Moore-Moore connection between Shawn and wide receiver Herman. With a tremendous defensive performance by Chris Slade, the Tigers were tamed.
This win made Virginia relevant on a national scale as they marched their way towards a 7-0 record and the number one ranking (the only team in the state that can claim that).
The Cavaliers finished the season with a heartbreaking 23-22 loss to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, but that season will always be remembered as the time one of the more embarrassing losing streaks in the country was snapped and Virginia transformed from an afterthought to one of the consistent powers in the ACC for the following decade.
Oh yeah—since then the series has gone 7-6-1 in favor of Virginia.