Late-game heroics shock Miami, keep postseason hopes alive

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Michael Rocco's career day propelled UVA to a comeback win over Miami. 
Photo: Matt Riley/UVa Media Relations Michael Rocco's career day propelled UVA to a comeback win over Miami. Photo: Matt Riley/UVa Media Relations

Rumors of Virginia’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

With their backs placed squarely against the wall, the Wahoos staved off bowl ineligibility in magical fashion Saturday, coming from 10 points behind to edge Miami, 41-40. Michael Rocco orchestrated an epic 16-play, 87-yard drive that gave UVA a signature win in a topsy-turvy 2012 campaign.

Rocco ultimately found favorite target Jake McGee in the back of the end zone with just six seconds remaining.

“Coming to the line of scrimmage I said, ‘Jake, this one is coming to you, go catch it.’ And he did. I kind of knew pre-snap that I was going to throw it high in the back of the end zone and hopefully he was going to get it.”

It was the pair’s second game-winning hookup this season.

“If it came to me, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be able to make the catch,” McGee said. “If he threw it to me, I knew I had to go get it. I felt like it could have been even higher and I would’ve been able to get it.”

Rocco  completed 18 consecutive passes Saturday, a school record previously held by Matt Blundin (14 vs. Duke, 1991). The junior finished 29-of-37 for 300 yards, four touchdowns, and zero picks.

“I think that Michael has done an outstanding job the last couple games,” coach Mike London said. “We talk about how selfless he is. He’s a team player. He wants to win. He has a great relationship with Phil [Sims]. No one cares about who gets the credit; we just want to win ball games.”

Virginia is 2-0 since adopting a quarterback rotation, though Sims (11-of-14, 83 yards) gave way to Rocco for good early in the fourth quarter with their team behind 38-28. After an egregious safety call, UVA trailed 40-35 when it received the ball for the final time on its own 13-yard line with 2:38 remaining. Twice would the Wahoos convert on 4th-and-7.

“It was real calm, actually,” McGee said of the game-winning drive. “Everyone has complete faith that Mike [Rocco] can lead us down the field and we just knew it was hopefully a matter of time before we could get seven on the board. Everyone knew that this was it. It was our last drive so [Rocco] kept us focused and told us that we got this.”

Five of Virginia’s six games inside Scott Stadium have been decided by a single score, but not since the season’s second game against Penn State had UVA prevailed.

Said Coach London: I’d just like to say what a blessing that is to see something like that come to fruition at the end of the game, where there have been a couple of times we’ve come on the short end of that: muffed punt, or interception or something. To see the players and coaches be really resilient, I’m just so elated, so happy for those guys.

“Sometimes you can’t measure desire and you can’t measure heart.”

With two games to play, UVA (4-6, 2-4 ACC) is two wins away from its second straight bowl berth, following a dizzying six-game freefall. The Cavs are now 5-1 in their last six games played in the month of November.

“We’re just winners,” Rocco said. “We all have that winning mentality that if we’re in a position to win it at the end that we’re going to. Sometimes the chips don’t fall as you would like them to but God was on our side today. We all played with guts and effort and got the win.”

UP NEXT: North Carolina

The south’s oldest rivalry will be privy to a national audience as ESPN visits Scott Stadium for its Thursday night showcase. Virginia won at Miami last season on a Thursday night and trounced UNC 23-0 in Scott Stadium on a Thursday night in 2006.  The Wahoos’ most notable mid-week contest took place 17 years ago in Charlottesville: UVA handed FSU its first-ever ACC loss, 33-28.

Larry Fedora is in his first season as North Carolina’s head coach. Fedora compiled a 34-19 record at Southern Miss, including two wins over Virginia in 2009 (37-34) and 2011 (30-24). He has employed a wide-open spread attack that is scoring more than 40 points per game in 2012. The unit is led by junior quarterback Bryn Renner and sophomore tailback Giovani Bernard.

Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC)  has dropped 18 of the last 25 meetings with UVA and hadn’t won in Charlottesville since 1981 before taking a lopsided 44-10 contest during its last trip in 2010.

UNC is ineligible to participate in postseason play this season. In March, the NCAA found the school responsible for violations including academic fraud, impermissible agent benefits, participation by ineligible players, and a failure to monitor the football program.

Virginia hasn’t won a home finale since a 2006 victory over Miami.

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