Wayne Taulapapa ran for three touchdowns, the last with 2:34 remaining, and No. 25 Virginia hung on, barely, to beat Florida State 31-24 on Saturday night.
The Cavaliers (3-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) trailed for much of the night and looked to have blown their chance when Brian Delaney missed a tying extra point with 6:02 to play. A three-and-out by the Seminoles and a six-play, 72-yard Virginia drive capped by Taulapapa’s 2-yard run gave them the lead. The Cavaliers went for two and Bryce Perkins was intent on passing, but when the Seminoles applied pressure in the backfield, he scrambled away from it and finally slithered through the defense and converted for the points.
The Seminoles (1-2, 0-1) drove to the Virginia 4 for the final play of the game, helped by four 15-yard penalty calls against the Cavaliers, but with no timeouts remaining and both teams scrambling to line up, a run attempt by Cam Akers that just beat the final gun was stopped when De’Vante Cross slowed him and Bryce Hall finished him off. The play was reminiscent of one 24 years ago when Virginia stopped Warrick Dunn inches from the end zone on the final play for a 33-28 Cavaliers’ victory that ended the Seminoles’ 29-game ACC winning streak.
“Anyone that was in the stadium today witnessed an amazing game,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Our defensive heart and effort was magical. I won’t forget this one ever.”
Virginia improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2005, and fans stormed the field after the frenetic final few plays.
“We’ve just got to come back tomorrow and try and fix the mistakes we had in this game, the critical mistakes,” said Gabe Nabers, who scored Florida State’s first touchdown on a 10-yard pass from James Blackman. “You can’t have those penalties.”
With the game tied at 17, Blackman hit Tamorrion Terry for 17 yards on third-and-10 from the FSU 25, and the Seminoles went up-tempo. Blackman hit Tre McKitty for 30 yards on the next play, three runs by Cam Akers netted 11 yards and Blackman hit Keyshawn Helton for a 17-yard touchdown to put them ahead 24-17.
Perkins completed all nine attempts for 67 yards — the last a 12-yard score to Joe Reed — in a 75-play drive to pull Virginia even at 17 with 14:15 left.
The Seminoles turned a shanked punt by Nash Griffin into a three-play, 39-yard touchdown drive, Blackman hitting Gabe Nabers for the last 10 yards. Virginia responded by going 75 yards in six plays to Wayne Taulpapa’s 3-yard scoring run to lead 10-7, but Florida State drove 87 yards just before halftime to lead 14-10.
Akers, who ran for just 20 yards in the half, capped the drive by catching a 3-yard pass from Blackman.
Florida State: Rumors of the Seminoles’ demise are exaggerated. Blackman played well after a slow start, and the maligned defense was solid until late in the game when it was gassed because the Seminoles did a quick three-and-out between two Cavaliers scoring drives.
Virginia: The Cavaliers have often flinched when faced with adversity — or possible prosperity — in recent years, but with Perkins showing poise and the defense doing exactly what the team needed following the missed extra point, the new standard that Mendenhall has tried to instill seems to have taken hold.
Virginia trailed much of the night against a maligned FSU team, but the finish is unlikely to hurt them in the rankings.
Florida State: The Seminoles return home to face Louisville in their ACC home opener.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are at home against next Saturday night to face Old Dominion.
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