Sept. 29, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia - Top 25 voters, take notice.
For the second consecutive weekend, Louisiana Tech went on the road and handed a BCS opponent a loss on its home field as the Bulldogs defeated Virginia 44-38 before 42,027 fans at Scott Stadium Saturday afternoon.
After trailing by as much as 14 points in the game, Tech used 34 unanswered points spanning from late in the second quarter to early in the fourth to improve to 4-0 on the season. The 4-0 start is the first by a LA Tech team since 1975. The Bulldogs two wins this year over Illinois and Virginia by a combined score of 96-55 marks the first time a LA Tech team has posted two victories over BCS schools in the same season since 1997 when it beat Alabama and California.
Saturday's win didn't earn style points nor did it come easy as Tech overcame a slow start and then had to withstand a late Virginia rally to hang on for the victory.
With Tech clinging to a 44-38 lead and facing a fourth down and one yard from its own 35-yard line, the Bulldog called a timeout and appeared to be preparing to punt the ball back to the Cavaliers who had scored touchdowns on its last two possessions.
However, head coach Sonny Dykes put his offensive unit back out on the field. Virginia, which had put its punt return unit out in anticipation of a punt, ran an 11th defender onto the field preparing for the Tech offensive play. However, the Cavaliers punt returner didn't notice and the Cavaliers were flagged for 12 men on the field, giving Tech a first down. With Virginia out of timeouts, the Bulldogs ran out the clock for the win.
"This was a crazy football game," said Dykes. "I thought we played well in the third quarter and took charge early in the fourth quarter. You have to give Virginia credit. They kept coming back and kept coming back, and we had to hold on for the win.
"This was a hard-fought win. Those guys are big and aggressive. I thought we played well against the run and created some big turnovers. We didn't play our best, but anytime we win on the road, it's a quality win."
Early on it appeared as though it might be a long day for LA Tech as Virginia racked up 200 yards of total offense in the opening quarter to build an early 14-3 lead on a pair of touchdown passes - one by running back Perry Jones and one by starting quarterback Michael Rocco.
Tech scored its first touchdown of the day when Colby Cameron found R.P. Stuart on a three-yard fade pattern in the corner of the endzone with 1:54 to play in the first quarter, capping an eight-play, 39-yar drive. The big play of the drive was a roughing the passer called on the Cavaliers on an unsuccessful fourth-down play by Tech, keeping the Bulldog offense on the field.
Virginia (2-3) scored the first 10 points of the second quarter, including a 73-yard touchdown strike from Rocco to Khalek Shepherd. A Drew Jarrett 35-yard field goal at the 7:35 mark of the second stanza upped the UVA lead to 24-10 - the biggest deficit of the season for LA Tech.
"We never got into any type of offensive rhythm or sync," Dykes said. "It was not Colby's best game but we scored 44 points so he did some things well. We just never seemed to get into a groove. We have to get that corrected and get our mojo back on offense."
However, the Tech defense - which had to overcome injuries to starting tackle Justin Ellis and linebacker Solomon Randle - came up with the first of its three interceptions of the day as Quinn Giles picked off Rocco on a tipped pass and returned it to the UVA 25-yard line with just under four minutes to play in the half. Two plays, later Ray Holley took a handoff and sprinted untouched around the right end for a 16-yard score to cut the deficit to 24-17.
Tech got one final chance in the first half and used nine plays to march 37 yards as Matt Nelson kicked the second of his three field goals on the day as the Bulldogs trailed only 24-20 at intermission.
The third quarter proved to be the difference as Tech outscored UVA 21-0. Holley opened the scoring with an 11-yard run to give Tech its first lead of the game at 27-24, finishing off a 14-play, 73-yard drive to open the second half.
Dave Clark then intercepted Rocco on Virginia's next possession, setting up the Tech offense on the Cavaliers' 43-yard line. Four plays later, Cameron faked a handoff up the middle and ran 13-yards untouched for a 34-24 Bulldog lead with 6:00 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Backup linebacker Chip Hester who was playing for the injured Randle then came up with maybe the biggest defensive play of the day as he stepped in front of a Rocco pass and returned it 32-yards for a score. Nelson's extra point made the score 41-24 with 5:08 to play in the third. Hester led Tech with 14 tackles while Antonio Mitchum registered 11 stops.
"We had a ton of injuries in this game," Dykes said. "We had a lot of guys play who haven't seen a lot of action. I thought Chip did a great job, and I'm proud of the way he played. Virginia knew we were going to gear up to try to stop the run, and I thought their quarterback played well early. We finally started to get some pressure on him and (recorded) some interceptions which led to some points."
After Nelson added a 45-yard field goal with 12:47 to play in the fourth quarter to give Tech a 20-point advantage at 44-24, Virginia backup quarterback Phillip Sims led a Cavalier rally. Sims found Jake McGee for a three-yard score with 6:56 to play and then hit Adrian Gamble on a 24-yard toss with 2:08 to play to close the gap to 44-38, setting up the crazy ending to the game.
Cameron completed 23-of-36 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown while adding 23 yards and one score on the ground. Kenneth Dixon led Tech's ground attack with 78 yards on 16 carries while Holley added 69 yards and two scores on 14 attempts.
Quinton Patton led all Tech receivers with seven receptions for 88 yards.
Tech won despite being outgained 625 to 385 yards by UVA. The Bulldogs were plus three in the turnover margin battle and are now plus 24 in turnover margin during its 11 game regular season winning streak.
The Bulldogs return to action next Saturday when they host UNLV at Joe Aillet Stadium at 6 p.m.