UVA’s self-inflicted wounds spoil chance to upset Wolfpack

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Michael Bruder

For 59 minutes and 20 something seconds, winless Virginia battled 9-point favorite NC State mano-a-mano on Friday night, and provided the country’s national-TV audience and a rain-soaked crowd in Scott Stadium to a Thriller-Diller of an ending.

But they still play 60, and that was UVA’s downfall in one of the most exciting, disappointing, bizarre and unforgivable finishes imaginable.

NC State 24, Virginia 21, with the Wolfpack winning on a walk-off, 33-yard field goal, compliments of graduate student Brayden Narveson. State’s kicker was awarded a mulligan after his first attempt, a 48-yarder, was blocked by Cavalier linebacker James Jackson.

Problem was, Jackson vaulted the line of scrimmage — a no-no in today’s college football — to make the block, and was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul, giving the Wolfpack kicker an almost-automatic ticket to a post-game celebration.

Unfortunately for Oh-and-4 Virginia, which owns the nation’s second-longest losing streak, it was the third personal foul in the final 36 seconds of the game. Jackson’s was the death blow that prevented the Cavaliers from sending the game into overtime for at least a chance to taste victory for the first time since last season.

The second personal foul was called on Virginia quarterback Anthony Colandrea for removing his helmet, then celebrating his almost unimaginable, two-point pass conversion to Malachi Fields from 17 yards out, knotting the game at 21-all with 36 seconds to play.

A 17-yard, two-point conversion pass you say? How did that happen?

Colandrea, a true freshman who is playing beyond his three full games of experience, had marched the Cavaliers 66 yards on 11 plays in the final 3:30 of the game to draw within two points of the Wolfpack at 21-19.

Scrambling for his life and for Virginia’s last gasp, the freshman threw a dart to Northwestern transfer wide receiver Malik Washington on third-and-goal, finding him momentarily open in the end zone for the touchdown.

UVA’s first of three personal fouls was called on that play, as right guard Ty Furnish was flagged for a head-butt against a Wolfpack player, moving the Cavaliers’ two-point try from the 2-yard line to the 17.

Colandrea magically made the clutch play, but as his helmet unsnapped, he pulled it the rest of the way off and began celebrating the play, and was penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.

“When I fell back, like my helmet came up and it was already off, so I kind of lifted it up … something I shouldn’t have done,” the quarterback said afterward. “I should have put my helmet back on.”

The additional yardage made it easier for State to respond, returning the kickoff to UVA’s 48, from where Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren felt comfortable about his chances.

“We felt like with our kicker, we needed to get the ball to the 35-yard line, because of the penalty and the return, we only needed 15 yards to do that,” Doeren said. “The first play (an 8-yard run by QB Brennan Armstrong to the 40) got us in field-goal range.

“After that, we were going to be pretty smart with the ball and not risk turning it over. Brayden made a 60-yarder in pregame going that direction (Scott Stadium’s north end zone), so we felt like we were in a pretty good spot right there. If you looked at what [Virginia was] doing defensively, we thought we could get a few more yards up the middle right there on that last play (a 2-yard Armstrong run to the 30).”

Narveson’s kick was blocked, temporarily providing hope for the home crowd until the flag was spotted, giving the kicker a reprieve.

When it was over, Virginia coach Tony Elliott — who has watched his team lose three-straight games with fourth-quarter gaffes — was proud of the effort, but somewhat broken by the inexcusable mistakes.

“We took a step tonight,” Elliott said. “They had a chance to kind of melt and wither late in the game, and they found a way to keep fighting all the way to the end. As I told them in the locker room, we’ve got to go 60 minutes. We’ve got to finish it. We can’t lose our composure. We’ve got to believe we’re supposed to be right there.

“We lost our cool, we got caught up in some personal battles, and unfortunately, as I told them, that earned us the wrong side of the fame and didn’t give us an opportunity to try and see if we can get it to overtime.”

For the game, Virginia outgained State 384 yards to 319, with Colandrea completing 18 of 30 pass attempts for 271 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Armstrong, a sixth-year QB who holds 15 UVA school records but is playing his final year of eligibility with State, was 15 of 30 for 180 yards, two TDs and an interception. Armstrong was also the Wolfpack’s leading rusher with 64 yards, while Colandrea led Virginia in rushing as well with 43 net yards on 13 attempts.

Coming up Saturday: More on Colandrea vs. Armstrong; Washington has another super performance at wide receiver; and more follows on Friday night’s game.