Wahoos miss opportunites, chance at postseason play in loss to UNC

Phillip Sims threw Virginia's only touchdown pass against UNC. The Tar Heels won, 37-13. Photo: Jack Looney Phillip Sims threw Virginia’s only touchdown pass against UNC. The Tar Heels won, 37-13. Photo: Jack Looney

Carolina’s third straight win over Virginia was not as thorough as the scoreboard suggested Thursday night. UVA made three costly mistakes, far fewer than a 24-point pasting would imply.

His team trailing 14-10 with five minutes remaining in the first half, Michael Rocco threw an interception. Tre Boston returned it 36 yards for a score.

“The pass was intended for Tim Smith,” Rocco said. “The safety rolled down into cover three, and I tried to fit one in there. The ball was too low. It could have been a big play if I had gotten it over top of him, but the safety made a good play, and then made a good return. It wasn’t my best throw.”

UVA was poised to tie the game in the closing moments of the third quarter. The Wahoos faced second-and-goal from the 3, third-and-goal from the 2, and fourth-and-goal from the 1. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor appeared to call identical plays on third and fourth downs, and Virginia gave away possession when Kevin Parks was dropped for a two-yard loss.

“It was a big turning point in the game,” Parks said. “[If] we get it, it’s a different ball game. We came up short. It hurts. I didn’t do a good job on my part getting in. You have to do anything possible to get in.”

“Seemed like the game kind of turned on that,” Mike London added.

All was not lost, even after UNC proceeded to march 97 yards for a touchdown to take a 14-point lead, 27-13. On the ensuing drive, Phillip Sims dropped back to pass on third-and-14 from his own 19-yard line. Darius Jennings got lost behind the Tar Heel defense but dropped what would have been a surefire 81-yard touchdown pass.

Said Sims: “I’m going to be honest with you. In practice this week, I really haven’t hit that play. It’s not my favorite play, if you were to ask anybody. I made a pretty decent throw on this one, but we just didn’t hit it tonight. It’s just the story of the night, I guess you could say.”

UNC would add 10 additional fourth-quarter points before the clock mercifully ran out.

A ticking time bomb, Virginia’s quarterback shuffle finally blew up Thursday night. In defense of his decision to lift Sims after he led UVA on a 67-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, London said: “The next series was up, and Mike was the guy.”

On the first play of that series, Rocco threw the crushing pick-six to Boston – and was then given the next drive, as well. Virginia went three-and-out.

The pair continued to split time in the second half but combined to produce just three points against a UNC defense that allowed 68 to Georgia Tech a week ago.

Virginia’s struggles were not limited to the offensive side of the ball. The Cavalier defense slowed ACC Player of the Year-candidate Giovani Bernard but failed to address freshman receiver Quinshad Davis, who caught 16 passes – tying an ACC record – for 178 yards.

UVA defensive backs routinely gave Carolina receivers 10-yard cushions from the line of scrimmage, and Bryn Renner took full advantage. The junior quarterback completed more than 80 percent of his passes, many of them simple bubble screens to Davis.

With the loss, Virginia is guaranteed a losing season for the fifth time in the last seven years.

“We’re not happy,” Rocco said. “You play for a bowl game, you play for championships, and you play to win. After a loss, it’s tough, especially knowing that you’re not going to be able to go to a bowl game for our seniors and the guys graduating. But we’ll move on. We have a big one next week.”