Virginia keeps bowl hopes alive; drops Miami under .500

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Larry Coker sounded tired and spent as he talked about the latest sad chapter in what has been a season to forget for his Miami players.

Apologizing as he did it, Coker admitted his team was struggling to focus on football while in mourning.

"It's been tough," he said after Miami's fourth consecutive loss, 17-7 at Virginia on Saturday. "It's been draining on everybody and maybe it culminated today because we didn't play with a lot of energy."

The loss capped a month to forget for the Hurricanes. Since a brawl-marred victory against Florida International on Oct. 14, the Hurricanes have endured the suspensions of 13 players for their roles in the melee, four losses, speculation that Coker's job is in danger and, most recently, a death.

The game came only days after the funeral of popular Hurricanes lineman Bryan Pata, who was fatally shot last week outside his Miami apartment.

Coker apologized for using the loss of Pata as an excuse, but added: "The bottom line is sometimes when you make plays you develop energy, and we didn't generate enough plays to feed off one another."

Virginia, on the other hand, got plenty of energy from freshman quarterback Jameel Sewell and its improving defense, which held Miami to 263 yards.

"It's just clicking right now," defensive end Chris Long said.

Sewell was 23-for-33 for 217 yards, and scored on runs of 12 and 2 yards. The latter capped a 28-yard drive set up by a fumble recovery at the Miami 28.

The Hurricanes had not allowed any team to run for 100 yards all year, but with Jason Snelling getting 57 on 28 hard carries and Sewell breaking off four runs of 10 yards or more, the Cavaliers finished with 132 on the ground and 349 total yards.

"If you had to pick a player of the game, I might pick him," Coker said.

The Cavaliers started strong, driving 92 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive. Sewell was 6-for-7 for 72 yards on the drive, and finished it with a 12-yard TD run.

"That first drive set it all up for us," Sewell said.

The Cavaliers defense set up the next score when Antonio Appleby stripped the ball from Sam Shields after a short gain and Clint Sintim recovered at the Hurricanes' 28. Four plays later, Sewell ran it in from the 2 to give Virginia a 14-0 lead.

"That felt great," Appleby said. "Causing a turnover and seeing the offense punch it in for 6 -- it doesn't get any better than that."

The Cavaliers (5-6, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) kept alive their hopes of qualifying for a bowl game with the victory and damaged Miami's postseason hopes.

Virginia will have to win at No. 19 Virginia Tech next weekend to qualify, while the Hurricanes (5-6, 2-5), losers of four straight, will play No. 20 Boston College.

The Hurricanes trailed 17-0 and didn't score until just over three minutes remained when Kirby Freeman found Lance Leggett for a 77-yard TD pass.

Freeman, making his second start after season-ending surgery to Kyle Wright, threw for 152 yards.

"I'm sick of losing. Miami's sick of losing. This football team is sick of losing. You know it's been like this all along; we've been busting our tails in practice. We're doing what we need to be a good football team. Things aren't clicking," he said.

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