|"It is the most important victory of my career." -- Head Coach Dick Voris, after the
Hoos’ 15-12 victory over Duke on September 27, 1958. Voris finished his UVA career
with a record of 1-29.
|"We've stopped recruiting young men who want to come here to be students first and
athletes second." -- Former Virginia head coach Sonny Randle, describing his strategy
for turning around UVA's football program
|"As the score mounted, to 20-0 and finally 26-0, his movements slowed. With two
minutes to go and South Carolina threatening once more, Voris stood behind several
rows of substitutes, staring at his shoes." -- Sports Illustrated, describing Coach Voris’
stellar coaching performance during the Hoos’ 26-0 loss to South Carolina in 1960
|"Really, Texas wasn't as good as I thought they'd be." -- Ted Manly, Virginia's
freshman quarterback, after Texas had spanked the Hoos 68-0
|UVA Football’s Top 20 Stomach Punch Games (1989-2008)
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|#16: UNC 22, UVA 17 (October 7, 1995)
I've never been shot before.
But I've seen lots of people get shot, you know, in movies. Of all the various ways I've
seen a guy getting peppered with bullet holes on film, I think the freakiest gunplay
scenes are those where the guy doesn't immediately know he's been hit. It's like it
happens so quick that his nerves don't even realize he should be in a horrific amount
of pain and screaming like Ray Lewis during his Super Bowl seizure dance. After a
few moments however, there's a growing sense of dread as the guy sees a trickle of
blood oozing from someplace that should't be oozing blood, and he realizes, "holy
crap, I've been shot."
This is what it was like when the ninth-ranked Virginia Cavaliers lost to North Carolina
on October 7, 1995. It was a close loss to a traditional rival, one that featured many
blown scoring opportunities and mental errors and dropped the Hoos to 5-2, 4-1 in
ACC play. But at the time, few people realized that this game was a full-on shotgun
blast to the yambag, because the real pain wouldn't fully kick in for another two months.
It wasn't until then that UVA fans realized this loss essentially cost Virginia a date in
the Orange Bowl against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
[Pausing to let that thought sink in.]
With UVA finishing tied for first (7-1) in the conference but losing the tiebreaker due to a
lower national ranking, it was Florida State that represented the ACC in the Orange
Bowl that year -- the same Florida State team that the Hoos defeated in early
November of 1995. So on New Year's Day the Noles, not the Hoos, staged a 17-point
fourth quarter rally against the Irish and won 31-26 in one of the more memorable
games in that bowl's history.
The Peach Bowl win against Georgia was a decent, but altogether unfulfilling
consolation prize. Ultimately, what would have been one of the biggest opportunities in
the program's history was essentially lost on October 7, 1995 under the pines at
Virginia Cavalier football in 1995 bore very little resemblance to the Hoos of today. It's
almost difficult to describe to any fan of the team under the age of 25. That team was a
powerhouse with talent at every position, yet was able to maintain a reputation as a
strong program academically. The coaching staff was universally respected on a
national level. They showed no intimidation on the road in places like Ann Arbor and
Austin. They were the clear #2 in the ACC pecking order at a time when Florida State
was the dominant force and a national power of historic proportions. Seven win
seasons were a disappointment, rather than the number of wins needed to save a
coach's job. And perhaps most remarkably to the fans of today, UVA was the dominant
recruiting force in Virginia and perhaps even in the entire mid-Atlantic region.
Coming into the game against the Heels, the Cavaliers were ranked in the Top 10 with
a 5-1 record, having won five straight after a season-opening stomach punch loss to
Michigan. (No sense in keeping that one a secret.) The team was led by the obvious
talents of junior RB Tiki Barber, who was averaging nearly 110 ypg and was quickly
becoming a name known throughout all of college football. The defense was stout,
with seven future NFLers in the rotation, including James Farrior, Jamie Sharper,
Ronde Barber, and freshman sensation Anthony Poindexter.
Despite a difficult schedule, the Hoos were thought to have a legitimate chance to be
the first ACC team to defeat the powerful Seminoles and win the conference outright.
No other team in the ACC was considered a legitimate threat, with the possible
exceptions of Clemson and a young Carolina team that had, despite much-improved
play, lost seven of their last eight to UVA coming into the season.
After a tenure that began with back-to-back 1-10 seasons, Mack Brown and the North
Carolina Tar Heels had begun to make some noise in the ACC in the early 1990s.
They finished in the Top 25 in the coaches poll every year from 1992 to 1994 and had
built on that success with some strong recruiting classes. Despite their recent
fortunes, however, Virginia had defeated UNC the previous two seasons, including
34-10 in 1994.
The Heels came into the UVA game with a somewhat disappointing 2-2 record after
losing to a good Syracuse team in the opening week and then being upset by
Maryland. Despite the two losses, UNC was ranked #1 nationally in total defense,
giving up an average of only 191 total yards per game.
Led by talented, do-it-all RB Leon Johnson and flashy WR Octavus Barnes, the Heels
had not defeated a team in the Top 10 since 1982. They would go on to finish a
somewhat disappointing 7-5, including a win over Arkansas in the CarQuest Bowl. But
they came to play at home against Virginia.
Size of Lead Lost – 1 out of 10 Points
The Heels would lead for most of the game, as the Hoos got off to a very
sluggish start. UNC took the opening kickoff and marched into the endzone on
their first drive, scoring on a Leon Johnson 2-yard run. The Heels would lead 16-
7 at the half, as Johnson also threw for a score. The Hoos fought back, however,
and took a 17-16 lead early in the fourth quarter on a Rafael Garcia field goal with
12 minutes left. Six minutes later, the Heels took the lead back on another
Johnson TD run after a drive in which UNC converted a fourth and one. They
missed the two-point conversion, leaving the margin at five where a TD or even
two field goals could win it for Virginia.
Level of Choke – 4 out of 10 Points
Penalties and blown opportunities absolutely killed the Hoos on this day. On a
drive deep into UNC territory late in the third quarter, two first downs were
nullified by penalty. Germane Crowell was flagged for holding on a 15-yard run
by Barber to the UNC 24, and an illegal-formation for not enough players on the
line of scrimmage (seriously, does anyone besides UVA get called for that
penalty?) eliminated a 7-yard pass to the UNC 27. Groh was then sacked and
the Hoos had to punt. They also had a 1st and 10 inside the UNC 40 with 1:51
left and couldn't convert, thanks to a Groh fumble that lost 9 yards on second
down. A fourth down pass to Crowell was knocked away and the game was over.
The worst infraction, however, was a mental error that everyone talked about after
Singular Moment – 5 out of 10 Points
Chris Harrison was a solid offensive lineman for Virginia and was playing in his
sixth year of eligibility thanks to a medical redshirt. He was working toward his
Masters, having already graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce, and
was considered a team leader. But it's usually not a good thing when an OL
makes perhaps the most memorable play of the game. With five minutes left in
the game, the Hoos had marched 40 yards downfield and had a first down at the
UNC 33. Having struggled most of the day, the offense was putting together a
cohesive drive and seemed to be wresting the momentum away late in the
game. On the next play, after a minimal gain by Barber, someone shoved
Harrison in the back. Harrison retaliated with a forearm to the UNC defender's
facemask and was promptly flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
Now, instead of second and 10 from the 33, it was second and 25 from the 48.
The Hoos got just inside the 40 on the next two plays, but ultimately had to punt.
The penalty didn't directly cost Virginia a touchdown, but that was likely their best
scoring opportunity late in the game.
Harrison, to his credit, was a stand-up guy afterward. "It was probably one of the
biggest mistakes I've ever made in my life. The dude came up and hit me in the
back, and I lost it. It was my fault. I've been playing here long enough to know
you've got to keep your poise in times like that."
Painful Finish – 6 out of 10 Points
Despite numerous trips inside UNC territory late in the second half, the Hoos
couldn't push enough points across, even with one of their best field goal kickers
of the last 20 years in Rafael Garcia. The agonizing fashion in which Virginia
would continually get to the edge of his range would ultimately lead to a
frustrating finish, as three drives that got inside the UNC 37 produced zero points.
As Coach Welsh would state so eloquently after the game, "they made some key
plays, and we didn't."
Season Killer – 8 out of 10 Points
The Hoos wouldn't lose another conference game in 1995, so in that sense, this
game had no lingering effect on the team's performance. However, it's
impossible to ignore the fact that, with a couple of different bounces and some
better mental decisions in this game, the Hoos could have gone 8-0 in ACC play
in 1995 and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl. This would not have been like
1990, when UVA backed into the Sugar Bowl. An Orange Bowl appearance in
1995 against Notre Dame would have been, far and away, the biggest game in
UVA football history.
Long-Term Implications – 7 out of 10 Points
Up until and including 1995, there was little doubt as to who was the top football
program in the state of Virginia. UVA had enjoyed the advantages of a stable
conference and recruiting connections in the most talent-rich areas of the state,
and they had won six of eight against their rivals in Blacksburg. So it seems like
more than a coincidence that, in the same year the Hoos fell just short of an
Orange Bowl appearance, the Virginia Tech Hokies won the Big East and
trounced Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Each program's trajectory has gone in
different directions since this memorable season for both schools.
While the 1995 season alone didn't cause the balance of power in the state to
shift, it's not a stretch to conclude that an Orange Bowl appearance could have
helped to stem the tide of a quickly improving Hokie program. The Hoos would
remain on relatively equal footing with Virginia Tech for the next few years, but it
was obvious that after 1995 there was no longer a UVA advantage of any
Even setting aside the Tech factor, the 1995 season was a golden opportunity missed
for the Virginia Cavaliers, in many respects. While they finished the season ranked
13th in the AP Poll, they had the talent and ability to finish much higher and set the
stage for other great seasons in the future. There would be more painful finishes in
the 1995 season, brutal finishes really, but this loss was arguably the most impactful.
|Overall Score – 31 out of 60 Points (Stomach Punch Factor 52%)
|UVA Football - Random Musings|