Potomac News Online | Gaining on FSU


When it comes to the University of Virginia playing football against Florida State, Cavalier fans and media are always trying to relive 1995’s historic upset, which was the first time any ACC team had beaten the Seminoles and one of most memorable wins in school history.

The thing about Saturday’s 19-14 loss to FSU is that it said a lot more about where Virginia ranks as a program than the 1995 nationally-televised Thursday night win over the No. 2-ranked Seminoles did then.

As we now know, that win was, if not a fluke, a case of Virginia playing its best game. They have not beaten Florida State since, though many would argue that this year’s seventh-ranked Seminoles and those of the two seasons prior are and were much more vulnerable than the 1995 Seminoles were.

On Saturday, Virginia demonstrated it was ready for the big-time, in between the white lines and around all of Scott Stadium. The Cavaliers aren’t there yet, but there will come a time when their performance exceeds anxious fans’ expectations. Saturday night was indicative of that.

No less an authority than Seminole coach Bobby Bowden, who on Saturday joined Penn State’s Joe Paterno as the winningest active Division I-A football coach by earning his 338th victory, agreed.

“I told my kids that I can’t remember a grittier win than that in a long time,” Bowden said. “I thought [Virginia] did a great job. I was afraid of Virginia this summer ? and that quarterback (Matt Schaub). Get rid of him. He’s too good.”

Quarterback Chris Rix thought the Cavaliers compared favorably to some of the other teams the Seminoles have played, which include national powerhouse Miami and Colorado of the Big 12.

“They battled out there,” Rix said. “They played hard, and my hat’s off to ’em. We were fortunate to win.”

Though FSU held the football for the final 6:19, gaining four first downs and keeping Virginia from getting the ball back for a final chance at winning, the Cavaliers otherwise outplayed the Seminoles.

Excluding a 79-yard Chris Rix-to-Craphonso Thorpe scoring strike on their second possession, a play on which one Virginia defensive back slipped and two missed what should have been sure tackles on the shifty Thorpe, Virginia outgained FSU 321-306.

Schaub was accurate, running back Alvin Pearman tied the ACC record for catches in a game with 16, and the U.Va. defense was stout.

Around campus, the Cavaliers showed other signs of becoming truly big-time in the world of college football.

A record crowd of 62,875 filled the 61,500-capacity Scott Stadium, and not all were wearing blazers, khakis and orange-and-blue ties. There were rowdy fans with foul slogans on their bright orange shirts, and others with no shirts at all, simply paint on their chests. Others wore blue corduroy pants with little orange sabres speckled all over them.

Virginia coach Al Groh has encouraged the crowd to be a little more into the game, and aside from teenagers taking it easy on the lawn behind the North end zone, the crowd was downright riled up. They even cheered the videoboard update of the Marlins leading the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series, though the loudest noise was reserved for big third downs and the customary “Cavalier First Down!” celebration.

Of course, there were still about six sections worth of Maroon-clad ‘Noles fans by the south end zone. Remember, Virginia has a way to go.

On the field, there’s still room for improvement as well. But aside from star quarterback Matt Schaub and a few key members of the defense, Virginia’s talent will all be back next season, and many the year after. Meanwhile, Groh and his staff recruit with the nation’s best.

Virginia looked neither slow nor weak compared to the Seminoles. They were certainly not out of place, and had they won, much unlike 1995, it would not have been a surprise or viewed as a one-time thing.

Cavaliers-Seminoles games are going to be like this for the foreseeable future, which is made all the more interesting by the fact that Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College will soon join the ACC.

It may all be of little consolation in the wake of Saturday’s loss, but someday the Cavaliers will realize where it ranked on their rise to the big time.

Keith McMillan covers football for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. E-mail him at [email protected]?

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