Neither team is going bowling.
An ineligible North Carolina team played the role of spoiler once again, crushing Virginia’s bowl hopes Thursday night with a nationally televised 37-13 victory in Charlottesville, Va. The Cavaliers (4-7, 2-5 ACC) were cruising after back-to-back wins, but the Tar Heels brought them crashing back to reality and ended any possibility of Virginia playing in the postseason.
It wasn’t just North Carolina, though. Virginia made too many mistakes -- six of them, to be exact. A six-game losing streak put Virginia behind weeks ago, and the Cavaliers were trying desperately to get out of a crater-sized hole they began digging Sept. 15 in a 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech. Back-to-back victories over NC State and Miami gave them hope, but in a must-win situation against the Tar Heels, the margin of error proved too slim to overcome.
Virginia’s errors were costly, and North Carolina’s defense made a statement after allowing Georgia Tech 68 points just five days earlier. Virginia was just 2-of-15 on third down, and 3-of-6 on fourth. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams played like he was auditioning for the NFL, and UNC (7-4, 4-3 ACC) came up with crucial stops. UVa also stopped itself.
Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco threw a pick-six in the second quarter, and Darius Jennings dropped a wide-open, would-be touchdown in the fourth quarter. Virginia also had the ball on UNC’s 1-yard line on fourth and goal in the final minute of the third quarter, but Kevin Parks was pushed back for a loss of two yards as UNC preserved a 20-13 lead. North Carolina followed up with a 97-yard touchdown drive and never looked back.
North Carolina has one game remaining, home against Maryland, while Virginia must still face rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The subplot to the Commonwealth Cup has changed now that Virginia won’t be bowling, but the Hokies can still clinch a postseason trip with a win at Boston College on Saturday, then another against the Cavaliers on Nov. 24.
The question now is if Virginia call pull a North Carolina and play the role of spoiler.