The Virginia Cavaliers hadn't done a great deal to inspire confidence. Yeah, they hung tough on defense pretty much all day, even with a couple of starters on the shelf against a dangerous North Carolina team.
So what happens? Marc Verica channels Tom Brady. Carolina goes soft on defense. A kid who looks like the pizza delivery boy manages to push through the game-tying extra point.
And for the second year in a row, Cavs tailback Cedric Peerman leaves the Virginia-North Carolina game as the happiest man in the building.
"Last year was very dramatic," Peerman said. "This year was twice as dramatic."
Peerman scored Virginia's two touchdowns — the first with 1:35 remaining to pull the Cavaliers within that dicey extra point, the second coming four plays into their first overtime possession to cap Saturday's 16-13 Houdini act.
"For us to come in here and play a team of this caliber," Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim said, "with the type of talent they have and intensity, and to come out with a win the way we did, means a lot. It says a lot about the character of this team."
Indeed, less than a month after being toe-tagged, the Cavaliers are above .500 overall and reside in the top half of the ACC's Coastal Division.
For the second consecutive week, Virginia got maximum offensive output in a brief period. The week before against East Carolina, the Cavaliers scored 28 points and totaled 292 yards in one quarter-plus-one play in an eventual 35-20 win.
Versus North Carolina, they crammed 107 yards and two touchdowns into two-plus minutes and one overtime period, after totaling 168 yards and three points in the game's first 58 minutes.
"The game is 60 minutes long," Verica said. "It's not 58, it's not 10, it's not 59. This team, in the past couple years, has shown that we're great in the final five minutes of the game. We've gotten a lot of wins here the past couple years in crunch time. That's been an identity of our team, and I couldn't be prouder of the coaches and my teammates."
Verica was the catalyst, and reflective of the Cavaliers' offense. Before the final drive, he completed 18 of 31 passes for 137 yards. On the last drive and in overtime, he was 7-for-8 for 99 yards, with a helping hand from the Tar Heels.
"I think we played the defense a little wrong," Carolina safety Deunta Williams said. "We played it too soft. We didn't think as much as we needed to. In a couple plays, I didn't get over on top of them like I needed to. I think it was just overall bad coverage."
After Peerman's fourth-quarter touchdown, Williams nearly ruined the collective buzz in Scott Stadium. He got a hand on Robert Randolph's PAT kick, which still managed to clear the crossbar by a couple of feet. That would be true freshman Robert Randolph, a recruited walk-on from Naples, Fla., who goes all of 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds and who filled in for injured Yannick Reyering.
In overtime, the Cavs' mojo against Carolina took over. The Tar Heels now have lost 14 in a row in Charlottesville, dating back to 1981, because of a defense that held firm and a quarterback undeterred by the first 58 minutes.
"It's cool," Verica said, "and it's uplifting for the team's confidence and my confidence. But like I said, we have another challenge waiting for us next week. It was nice to see that we can deliver in that kind of situation, so there's going to be a lot of confidence taken from this game, but we understand there's more games ahead. So we just have to stay focused."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org