CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- For the second straight week, the University of Virginia football team found itself locked in a tense battle in the final minutes of an ACC game. For the second straight Saturday, the Cavaliers refused to yield. A week after rallying to defeat Duke 28-21 at Scott Stadium, Virginia ended a seven-game losing streak against North Carolina with another comeback victory.
After falling behind 14-10 early in the second half, the Wahoos rallied to beat UNC 20-14 at Kenan Stadium. The victory was the fourth straight for UVA (5-1 overall, 2-0 ACC). "I know in past years, we didn't pull these games out," said UVA junior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who caught five passes for 100 yards and one TD. "We're just confident in what we're capable of doing. There's never a worry or a fret or anything. We're confident, and we just keep playing."
Late in the game, the Cavaliers had a first down at the UNC 22 and an opportunity to stretch their lead to 13 points with a touchdown (and PAT) or nine with a field goal. "That would have been great," sophomore defensive back Chris Moore said. "Less stress." A personal foul on second down, for a block below the waist, moved the Cavaliers back to the 35, however, and then Benkert lost a fumble after being sacked on third-and-17 from the 29. That gave the Tar Heels (1-6, 0-4) one last chance to extend their winning streak in this series. "I was just thinking that was the last thing we needed and I was hoping our defense could pull it off," Benkert said of UVA's lone turnover Saturday. "It was tough."
As it had against Duke, however, the Cavaliers' defense delivered again. A fourth-down sack by outside linebacker Chris Peace ended UNC's drive with 1:07 to play, allowing UVA's offense to run off the final seconds in victory formation. "Our defense is the heart and soul of our team," Benkert said, "and I think that's playing to a really good strength of ours right now."
The Cavaliers, who led 10-0 at halftime, allowed two touchdowns early in the third quarter, both by freshman running back Michael Carter. But the `Hoos didn't panic. "To [the Heels'] credit, they came back, but to our credit we came back again," Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "And that's really what football is: You just keep bouncing back and getting up and making corrections and adjust and match up and adjust again, match up and motivate and match up and improvise, and then hopefully you make one or two more plays than the opponent. "The last two weeks, that's what our team has done."
Late in the third quarter, Zaccheaus, in the right flat, caught a pass from Benkert and took off down the right sideline. Aided by a block by fellow wideout Doni Dowling, Zaccheaus raced 81 yards for a touchdown that put UVA back on top. "If you're off at all against Olamide, he's going to go for a long ways," Mendenhall said, "and it's nice to have that caliber of player on our team."
The Cavaliers are equally delighted to have junior running back Jordan Ellis, who rushed 27 times for a career-high 137 yards Saturday. "He's a gritty guy, as you saw today," Zaccheaus said. "This is just what he's been working for his whole life. This offseason I literally watched him every day just grind extra, just do extra things, and it's paying off for him." True freshman A.J. Mejia, who opened the scoring Saturday with a 20-yard field goal, booted a 27-yarder with 14:14 left to push Virginia's lead to 20-14.
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