Virginia's dream died at Georgia Tech's doorstep on Saturday.
In a classic battle worthy of a game with national championship implications, the No. 1-ranked Cavaliers failed to score a touchdown five times from inside the 6 late in the fourth quarter.They settled for a game-tying 23-yard field goal and then watched in dismay as their hunt for No. 1 ended when Tech's Scott Sisson kicked a 37-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining to give the No. 16 Yellow Jackets a thrilling 41-38 victory.
With a record Scott Stadium crowd of 49,700 watching, Tech overcame a sluggish first quarter to score 21 third-quarter points and kick two fourth-quarter field goals. Quarterback Shawn Jones - the Shawn who is not a Heisman Trophy contender - ignited the Yellow Jackets by completing 17 of 29 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns and showing complete composure in the clutch.
The Yellow Jackets go to 7-0-1 overall and 4-0-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, virtually locking up their first league title. It's their best start since 1966.
Heisman candidate Shawn Moore completed 18 of 28 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown. He ran for three others as Virginia, which had been eyeing a New Year's Day showdown for the national title fell to 7-1 and 4-1.
The Cavs likely will drop out of the top five. They're strength of schedule probably won't allow them another shot at the national title.
"It hurts - a lot," said wide receiver Herman Moore, who had nine catches for 234 yards and a touchdown. "That stand was the biggest thing in the game. You have to give them credit."
While you're at it, subtract a few points from the Cavaliers. They can't count. On an apparent touchdown pass from Shawn Moore to Aaron Mundy on third and goal at the one, Virginia was flagged for an illegal formation. The Cavaliers had only 10 men on the field and six - instead of seven - on the line.
Only two plays earlier at the 1, they were called for illegal procedure.
They had even been given extra downs after Tech committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a 48-yard pass that put them at the 5.
Left with fourth and six, coach George Welsh elected for a field goal with 2:34 remaining. Both Moores said they wanted to go, but that would have meant relying on a defense that hadn't stopped Tech since the first quarter.
"There were still two and a half minutes left," said Welsh, defending his decision to kick. "Maybe they would throw it into the ground. Maybe our defense would rise up for a change."
Instead, the defense continued to let Jones dictate the game. After the kickoff, he drove the Yellow Jackets from his own 25 to the Virginia 20 in five plays. With 12 seconds left, the Jackets called time out on first down and brought out Sisson.
"Sure I was nervous," said Sisson. "It still hasn't hit me what happened. It will take a while. It's a lot to handle when a kick means that much."
As much as it meant to Tech coach Bobby Ross, who is rebuilding the program after losing 20 of his first 25 games there, it devastated the Cavaliers. This was the biggest game in school history. When it mattered, they could not stop the Yellow Jackets.
"It hurts to lose a game to a team you're better than," said defensive lineman Joe Hall. "We lost this game."
They looked ready to run away with it in the first quarter. A one-yard sneak by Shawn Moore and Jake McInerney field goals of 27 and 51 (a personal best) yards gave them a 13-0 lead.
In a display of "answer this," this teams took turns scoring four TD's in the second quarter. Jones scrambled from 23 yards. Shawn Moore came back with his second one-yard sneak. Jones then threw 43 yards to Jerry Gilchrist before Moore ran in on a quarterback draw.
That gave Virginia a 28-14 lead at the half. But Georgia Tech gained momentum on the first play of the third quarter when Moore fumbled at his own 28. Four plays later, Gilchrist scored on a reverse.
An interception stopped Virginia's next drive. Tech couldn't score but punted inside the Virginia 5. When they got the ball back on a punt, the Yellow Jackets drove 46 yards with Jones passing from the 2 to Emmett Merchant to tie the game at 28.
Herman Moore caught a 63-yard scoring strike from Shawn, but Tech came right back with an eight-yard run by Bell.
The teams traded field goals in the fourth quarter before Sisson won it.
"We made too many mistakes on offense," said Welsh. "A fumble, an interception. Then we foul up on the goalline. On defense, we never really stopped them. It all adds up to a loss."
And a broken dream.