Nov. 7, 1999
By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - David Rivers' first three quarters as Virginia's quarterback were about what might be expected of a player whose only job in almost three years of college football was snapping the ball on the punt team.
His last three quarters were more than enough to make it all worthwhile.
"Amazing," coach George Welsh said after Rivers overcame a slow start and rallied Virginia to a 45-38 victory against then-No. 7 Georgia Tech. "The kid did good."
Rivers had thrown 15 passes in his career when he was tabbed to start in place of the injured Dan Ellis against the Yellow Jackets on Saturday. His counterpart was Joe Hamilton, a leading Heisman Trophy hopeful and the nation's top-rated quarterback.
Considering the stakes and expectations, it was no contest.
Bolstered by the 213-yard, two-touchdown running of Thomas Jones and a defense that stiffened when it needed to most, Rivers led the Cavaliers back from an early 17-0 deficit with three touchdown passes and surprised even his coach and his teammates.
Only a week ago, Rivers' duties as long-snapper were his only ones on the field. He lost that job when Ellis' recovery from a concussion made him the starting quarterback.
"He had a lot asked of him, to go out there and match the leading Heisman Trophy candidate and probably the best quarterback in the nation play for play," tackle Noel LaMontagne said. "It's just incredible for him to perform so well under those conditions."
Rivers finished 18-for-30 for 228 yards. He never lost his cool, his teammates said, and seemed to grow in confidence each time the Cavaliers moved the chains.
"I felt like once we started moving the ball on them, that was all we needed to do," said the Augusta, Ga., native, who was born and raised a devout Yellow Jackets fan.
Georgia Tech also helped make it a game with three crucial mistakes.
The Yellow Jackets scored on four of their first five possessions, but lost the ball at the Virginia 6 when Hamilton's pitch missed Dez White and Byron Thweatt recovered.
Later, Marvious Hester dropped an interception deep in Georgia Tech territory on the drive when Virginia went ahead to stay, and then Kelly Campbell let what would have been a 68-yard touchdown pass from Hamilton go off his fingertips on the next series.
Three plays after the drop, with 10:10 remaining, the Yellow Jackets punted.
"They did what they had to do," Yellow Jackets coach George O'Leary said of the Cavaliers, who kept alive their chance of winning seven games for the 13th straight season. Only Florida State, Michigan and Nebraska have streaks that long.
Georgia Tech, meantime, dropped to 13th in the AP poll released Sunday and saw its chances for an at-large bid to the Bowl Championship Series all but evaporate.
"It's the luck of the draw, man, the luck of the draw," Hamilton said.
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