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Teel: UVA's recent escapes reminiscent of 2007 'Cardiac Cavs'
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Teel: UVA's recent escapes reminiscent of 2007 'Cardiac Cavs'

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After Virginia’s most recent escape act, Cavaliers defensive line coach Clint Sintim offered the perfect analogy: “Man, I don’t remember having a feeling like this since I played here my junior year.”

Sintim’s junior season as a UVA linebacker was 2007, a year like no other in program history.

“They dubbed us the Cardiac Cavs,” he said.

And rightfully so, after an extended run of harrowing victories few, if any, have experienced or witnessed.

The 2021 Cavaliers are starting, just starting, mind you, to conjure memories of that group.

Two weeks ago at Miami, Virginia nearly butchered a 13-point, third-quarter lead. But on the game’s final snap, Hurricanes freshman Andy Borregales missed a 33-yard field goal attempt off the left upright.

UVA 30, Miami 28.

Last week at Louisville, Virginia erased a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit and seized the lead with 22 seconds remaining on Brennan Armstrong’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Grant Misch, Misch’s lone reception of the afternoon. On the game’s final play, the Cardinals’ James Turner pulled a 49-yard field goal attempt wide left.

UVA 34, Louisville 33.

“My wife is going crazy at the house watching all the games,” Sintim said. “She’s just like, ‘Do they all have to be like this?’”

No, they don’t, witness the Cavaliers’ first four outings this season, each of which was decided by at least 20 points. But dramatic finishes can be invaluable to a team’s growth, forging trust, confidence and tenacity.

Winning such games doesn’t vaccinate you against future disappointment — the other team has scholarship players, too — but it certainly improves your odds the next time final-minute tension arises.

Which brings us back to 2007, Al Groh’s seventh season as UVA’s coach.

Projected to finish fourth among six Coastal Division teams, the Cavaliers opened with a grim 20-point setback at Wyoming.

They rebounded with a routine home victory over Duke, and then everything went haywire.

Seven of Virginia’s next eight games were decided by five points or less. The Cavaliers prevailed in six of them.

They won three games by one point, contests in which neither team scored more than 18. They won a pair of games by two points and routed — wink, wink — Georgia Tech by five.

“We’re not interested in who we’re impressing,” Groh said after unranked Virginia improved to 6-1 with a 17-16 win over undefeated, yes, undefeated, Connecticut. “We’re just interested in winning games. These players have demonstrated they’re a tough-minded group, and they’re not going to crack. They’ve got a lot of confidence in each other. They’ve got a good level of humility.”

Virginia Tech gets by Richmond in unimpressive fashion. Virginia gets drilled again. And, finally, down goes Clemson. All that and some numbers help with Aaron McFarling’s puppy chow

Some quick highlights:

  • Trailing 21-20 at Middle Tennessee State, Virginia took over at its 20 with 1:26 on the clock and no timeouts remaining. Jameel Sewell completed five consecutive passes, and Chris Gould kicked a 34-yard field goal with 8 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a 23-21 victory.
  • One week later against UConn, Gould booted the game-winner from 19 yards out with 3:20 remaining, and Sintim, Chris Long and the rest of the defense made it hold up.
  • The following week, at Maryland, was a game I’ve always remembered. Long was dominant with 3½ tackles for loss and two sacks, one for a safety. He had 10 tackles overall and deflected two passes.

But the story was an obscure tailback/receiver. Playing only because of tailback Cedric Peerman’s season-ending foot injury, Mikell Simpson rushed for 119 yards on just 16 carries and caught 13 passes for 152 yards.

He ran for both of UVA’s touchdowns in the 18-17 victory, the latter from a yard out with 16 seconds remaining. On the 15-play, 90-yard drive that produced his decisive score, Simpson rushed nine times for 44 yards and caught five passes for 44, including a 4-yarder on a fourth-and-4.

Fifteen plays, 14 touches. Remarkable.

  • Just like this season’s bunch, UVA drew aces on a final-play field goal. Wake Forest’s Sam Swank, a first-team all-ACC selection the season prior, missed from 47 yards, allowing the Cavaliers to defeat the reigning conference champs 17-16.

A 48-0 demolition of Miami the next week, the Hurricanes’ final game at the Orange Bowl stadium, leapfrogged UVA to No. 16 in The Associated Press poll. But the Cavaliers lost to No. 8 Virginia Tech in the de facto Coastal title game and to Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl to finish the season 9-4.

The latter defeat, 31-28, was especially frustrating. Virginia led 28-14 with 4 minutes remaining and lost on Alex Trlica’s 41-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining.

Still, the memories make Sintim smile.

“I think any time you win a [close] game like that,” he said, “there is a high level of belief, belief that your teammates are going to do their job, belief that regardless of the score, you have an opportunity to win. That ’07 team had a lot of belief and a lot of resolve, and every time you win a game like that, the belief grows stronger.

“Obviously as a team, we have a lot of things to work on, and we’re [addressing] those things in practice, but I do think there’s a resolve right now that we’re seeing, that’s developing.”

Having the Power Five’s most productive quarterback — Armstrong averages 410 yards passing per game — gives UVA (4-2, 2-2 ACC) a chance to overcome most any obstacle, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall anticipates more drama in the season’s back half.

“Yeah,” he said, “every single game.”

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel

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