CAVS KEEP ON THE AS­CENT

U.Va. top­ples UNC, en­ters Novem­ber as class of the Coastal

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Sports - Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636.

CHAR­LOTTESVILLE — There is no doubt who played the ACC Coastal Di­vi­sion’s best foot­ball in Oc­to­ber. Vir­ginia did, and it’s not close.

The Cava­liers punc­tu­ated their per­fect month Satur­day with a 31-21 vic­tory over North Carolina at Scott Sta­dium, earn­ing bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity for the sec­ond straight sea­son — that last hap­pened in 2004 and ’05.

Feel free to call this assess­ment of Vir­ginia damn­ing with faint praise. Af­ter all, its six di­vi­sion col­leagues have not, uh, dis­tin­guished them­selves of late.

Even Ge­or­gia Tech, which dec­i­mated Louisville and Vir­ginia Tech this month, had a home clunker against Duke.

Con­versely, the Cava­liers passed, aced even, their three Oc­to­ber tests, best­ing Coastal ri­vals Mi­ami and Duke be­fore Satur­day.

“I’m thrilled that the new stan­dard is be­ing ful­filled, third-year Vir­ginia coach Bronco Men­den­hall said, “and part of that, again, is that we ex­pect to win foot­ball games, we ex­pect to play in the post­sea­son. It’s not some­thing to mar­vel about or won­der about.”

The Cava­liers and their fans did mar­vel at bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity last year, cel­e­brat­ing wildly af­ter a Nov. 4 home win over Ge­or­gia Tech clinched a post­sea­son bid. And why not? Vir­ginia had reached one bowl in the pre­vi­ous eight years.

There was no such rev­elry Satur­day.

“They think that’s nor­mal now,” Men­den­hall said. “I think

the fans, the play­ers, I think we all col­lec­tively, are act­ing dif­fer­ent be­cause the … pro­gram has moved to a dif­fer­ent place than it was one year ago.”

The Cava­liers (6-2 over­all) seized sole pos­ses­sion of first place in the Coastal with a 4-1 ACC record, their best league start since 2007, when their reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale against Vir­ginia Tech was a de facto di­vi­sion cham­pi­onship game — the Hok­ies pre­vailed 33-21.

Vir­ginia's chal­lenge now is to ex­tend Oc­to­ber's ex­cel­lence into Novem­ber, to ride quar­ter­back Bryce Perkins and a stingy de­fense to the pro­gram's first Coastal ti­tle and ACC cham­pi­onship game ap­pear­ance.

Perkins on Satur­day passed for 217 yards and three touch­downs and rushed for 112 and an­other score. It was his third 100-yard rush­ing game this sea­son, the first in which he also threw for 200plus.

Most of what Perkins does leaps at you, in-per­son or on tele­vi­sion. To wit, the slick, 19yard op­tion run that ig­nited Vir­ginia's first-pos­ses­sion touch­down drive, and the 27-yard scor­ing pass to Joe Reed later in the first quar­ter.

But Perkins also has a sub­tle side. On a first-quar­ter thir­dand-2, he made the wrong de­ci­sion on the read op­tion, kept the ball and ran left into the de­fense's teeth. But he some­how found an ex­tra gear, turned the cor­ner and gained just enough for the first down.

Three plays later, he found Reed for the touch­down that put the Cava­liers ahead to stay.

“He can re­ally run,” North Carolina coach Larry Fe­dora said, “and it makes you do some things that can open some things in the pass­ing game. … There were times when he got out on the edge, and we have some guys that can run, and he out­ran them.”

Com­ple­ment­ing Perkins were tail­back Jor­dan El­lis (64 yards rush­ing) and re­ceiver Olamide Zac­cheaus (10 catches, 108 yards). Zac­cha­eus be­came Vir­ginia's ca­reer re­cep­tions leader, his 213 by­pass­ing Billy McMullen's 210.

Mean­while, a de­fense led by safety Juan Thorn­hill, cor­ner­back Bryce Hall and lineback­ers Chris Peace and Charles Snow­den lim­ited the Tar Heels (1-6, 1-4) to 66 yards rush­ing. Be­fore Satur­day, their sea­son-low was 161.

With line­backer Jor­dan Mack ex­pected to re­turn next week af­ter miss­ing four games with a shoul­der in­jury, the de­fense should fur­ther el­e­vate.

“I think we have one of the best de­fenses in the na­tion,” Thorn­hill said. “We're play­ing great right now. You can't take that away from us.”

The Cava­liers started last year 5-1, but few took them se­ri­ously. Sure enough, they lost six of their last seven.

Now, as the reg­u­lar sea­son's defin­ing month beck­ons, they rate as the di­vi­sion fa­vorite.

Re­main­ing ACC games ver­sus Pitts­burgh, Ge­or­gia Tech and Vir­ginia Tech, the lat­ter two on the road, will push them as no other con­tests have, es­pe­cially with the un­fa­mil­iar bur­dens of first place and ex­pec­ta­tions. But they em­brace the chal­lenge.

“We all say we want the throne,” Snow­den said.

“You can feel it in the locker room,” Perkins said. “We're not sat­is­fied. … We want the Coastal and we're not go­ing to be sat­is­fied un­til we get that. … We have a dif­fer­ent type of swag­ger.”

Men­den­hall wel­comes such talk.

“I don't be­lieve in set­ting lim­its,” he said. “I be­lieve most of us ac­cept lim­its from out­siders. I don't think any of us ever know what a hu­man be­ing, or per­son, is truly ca­pa­ble of, so I ask for ev­ery­thing. and that's what our play­ers want. … For this sea­son, why take any­thing off the ta­ble?”

David Teel

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