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Is This Finally Virginia’s Year?

By Dave Holcomb
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Virginia Tech has won 15 straight matchups in the rivalry since then, which is the longest winning streak for either school in the series.

By the time Friday rolls around, the Virginia Cavaliers will have been waiting 371 days for another chance at rival Virginia Tech. However, it’s been “wait until next season” for Virginia football against its cross-state rival for a lot longer than that.

The Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Hokies since 2003. Virginia Tech has won 15 straight matchups in the rivalry since then, which is the longest winning streak for either school in the series.

Last season, it appeared as though the streak was going to end. Behind a furious fourth-quarter comeback, the Cavaliers led the Hokies by seven with under three minutes to play, but Virginia Tech drove down the field for the game-tying touchdown. On the scoring play, the Hokies actually fumbled but recovered the loose ball in the end zone for the tying score.

Then in overtime, Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins fumbled on his team’s only possession. Virginia Tech won with a field goal, 34-31.

But Cavaliers fans know that story. What they care about is whether Virginia can finally get over the hump and beat Virginia Tech? If they can, it’s off to the ACC Championship for the Cavaliers. If they can’t, it’s another 365 days until another chance.

After the way last year’s matchup ended, Perkins will be itching to go as much as anybody. He played very well in the loss, throwing for 8.9 yards per attempt and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The fumble was really his only mistake, and it was an ill-timed one.

Perkins has somewhat underwhelmed this year compared to his lofty preseason expectations. That will all be forgotten, though, if he becomes the first Virginia quarterback to beat Virginia Tech since Matt Schaub.

The good news for Perkins is he appears to be peaking at the right time. He’s posted a 69.2 completion percentage and 8.03 yards per pass with six touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last three games. Should Perkins continue to play this way, the Cavaliers have to like their chances.

But speaking of peaking, the Hokies are coming off back-to-back shutouts against Georgia Tech and Pitt. Virginia Tech has yielded just 9.5 points per game in November, and Saturday was the first time the Hokies recorded two consecutive ACC shutouts under defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

Foster has been a focal point in the Virginia Tech-Virginia rivalry over the last 15 years. Rising to Hokies defensive coordinator in the mid-1990’s, Foster has allowed just 12.0 points per game to Virginia during the winning streak, and in that stretch, Virginia Tech has posted three shutouts.

The Virginia Tech defensive coordinator plans to retire at the end of the season. With this being his last hooray, his players are obviously playing very hard for him. It’s hardly the only thing contributing to the Hokies winning six of their last seven, but it’s a significant reason.

Perkins will have to bring his best effort to outduel the old ball coach. Even one turnover can ruin a game like it did last season for the Virginia quarterback.

Perkins will have to outduel Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker as well. The defense has stolen the show with back-to-back shutouts the last two weeks, but Hooker is 19 of 26 for 312 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games. Over the last four contests, he’s averaging 11.2 yards per pass.

Pitt’s pass rush, which is one of the best in the country, didn’t phase Hooker one bit. Pressure alone from Virginia probably won’t do much more this week even though the Cavaliers are also great at sacking the quarterback (they are tied for second in the ACC with 37.0 sacks in 11 games).

All of this adds up to create one of the most hyped matchups in the Commonwealth rivalry. After all, the division title is on the line.

Following Virginia Tech’s slow start to the year, it appeared as though this wouldn’t be the case, but similar to late in its matchup against Virginia last season, the Hokies aren’t done.

Still, for the Cavaliers, the expectation is the streak will finally end. Because if not now, then when? Virginia has one of its best teams in years and this matchup is in Charlottesville.

If the Cavaliers come up short again versus the Hokies, it might be greater than 365 more days before Virginia gets another great crack at its rival.