Nov. 12, 2005
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Chris Long looked around the room, considered the collection of players that lifted Virginia to a critical victory and shook his head.
"I can't say enough about the heart of the guys around me," he said.
"A lot of people talk about heart in football, and sometimes the word is misused. This was a day where it was the heart that got it done."
Marques Hagans led Virginia on two scoring drives after it squandered a 17-point lead and the Cavaliers beat No. 24 Georgia Tech for the fourth consecutive season, 27-17.
The victory made Virginia (6-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) bowl eligible, and probably taught the Cavaliers about themselves because of what they had to overcome.
Already without starting safety and co-captain Tony Franklin, starting nose tackle Kwakou Robinson, reserve defensive end Vince Redd and wideout Ottowa Anderson, all suspended this week for violating team rules, the Cavaliers lost safety Nate Lyles on a frightening play in the first quarter.
Lyles, kneed in the head while trying to tackle P.J. Daniels on a 12-yard run, lay on the field for about 10 minutes before being carried off on a stretcher.
The losses and absences put untested players on the field for the Cavaliers, but their nickel defense and just enough of a pass rush were enough to pull them through.
Even after seeing Georgia Tech score 17 straight points to tie it in the third quarter, the Cavaliers scored on back-to-back drives to win their second straight.
"They didn't blink. They didn't flinch," coach Al Groh said of his team.
And Lyles? He'll stay overnight at a hospital, but will be fine, Groh said.
"That's the best news of the evening." he said.
The Cavaliers started fast, getting touchdown runs of 15 and 18 yards from Wali Lundy and a 48-yard field goal from Connor Hughes to take a 17-0 lead after 17 minutes.
But the Yellow Jackets (6-3, 4-3) rallied to get even on Reggie Ball's 24-yard touchdown pass to Damarius Bilbo in the third quarter, quieting the crowd.
Then Hagans and bruising tailback Jason Snelling took over, leading one drive to Hughes' 47-yard field goal, another to Deyon Williams' 21-yard touchdown catch.
In between, Travis Bell missed a tying 44-yard field goal, giving Virginia the ball at its own 27, and sending Groh rushing into the offensive huddle with a challenge.
"I told them, `Here's the opportunity for you now, fellas. You've got to be like a shark smelling blood,"' Groh said. "And they took the ball and finished it off."
Williams finished with 10 catches for 107 yards, both career highs.
"He played with one of those 'I want the ball' attitudes tonight," Groh said.
The victory came in the first of three difficult chances the Cavaliers had to reach the six victories required for a bowl game. They play rival No. 8 Virginia Tech here next Saturday, then conclude the regular season at No. 3 Miami on Nov. 26.
For a time, it looked as if the Yellow Jackets would rally for their fourth win in a row. They got a 1-yard touchdown run from Tashard Choice and a 48-yard field goal from Bell in the last 5:06 of the first half, then pulled even with 5:23 to go in the third quarter when Ball hit Bilbo for the 24-yard touchdown.
"If anything, it energizes you to rally back like that," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said before lamenting the Cavaliers' ability to respond.
"Our defense all year long has been coming through for us in that situation," he said. "This is the one time that it didn't happen."
Virginia hadn't done much offensively since scoring on its first three possessions, but Hagans got them started again with a 19-yard pass to Snelling. When the drive stalled at the Yellow Jackets' 30, Hughes kicked his second field goal of the game.
After Bell missed, Snelling carried five times for 36 yards and Hagans hit three passes, the last to Williams in one-on-one coverage over the middle, for the TD.
"We knew we could put them away on that last drive, and we did," Williams said.
Hagans was 21-for-29 for 205 yards with one interception. He also ran for 25 yards as Virginia gained 366 yards against a defense that came in ranked No. 16 nationally.
Ball was 20-for-38 for 207 yards. He also ran eight times for 68 yards.