A little over a week ago, I revisited a list I created in 2009 detailing the top 10 UVa football games I had attended with a promise to update that list now that we are (hopefully) heading toward the 2020 season. In that Cavalier Daily column, I compiled my record in all the games I had went to up to that point, which included three home games each in 1999 and 2000, every home game except two from 2001-2008, two road games in 2007, and the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl. Out of 58 games, I saw Virginia win 43 times and lose 15 times, a winning percentage of .741. I expected my percentage to fall this time around, given the poor state of the program for much of 2009-2019, and boy, was I right. From 2009-2019, I saw varying numbers of games, with a high of seven in both 2009 and 2011, to a low of zero in 2014 and 2015, when I was fed up with the program. My record over those 11 seasons? A paltry 9-21, a winning percentage of .300. Good for a hitter in baseball, bad for attending your favorite team's football games. So UVa's record when I'm in attendance over the past 21 seasons is 52-36 (.591).
Despite only witnessing nine victories in 11 years, a few of those games have cracked my new top 10. Beginning with the 2009 campaign, any new entrants on this list are marked with an asterisk. I'm also giving myself discretion to move games up or down from the old list based on how a victory has aged, I guess you could say. Below, I'll provide commentary on the new games, refresh the commentary for old games, and indicate if a contest from 1999-2008 moved up or down. And I'll lead off with an "others receiving votes" category, because why not? All games were in Charlottesville unless otherwise specified.
Others receiving votes (no order): 2006 vs. Wyoming, 2007 at North Carolina, 2002 vs. Maryland, 2007 vs. Wake Forest, *2010 vs. Miami.
10. Oct. 18, 2008 - Virginia 16, No. 18 North Carolina 13 (OT): This game was No. 3 on the 2009 list, but I think I ranked it too high due to recency bias and the fact that I rushed the field. I said it myself in my column then, "The game itself wasn't that spectacular until Virginia's tying drive in the fourth quarter." But it was a win over a ranked UNC team in the “South’s Oldest Rivalry,” so it sticks. Virginia didn’t score until a field goal in the third quarter, and then found itself down 10-3 with about two minutes left in the game. Marc Verica, who had a few unexplainable hot streaks during his career, got hot at the right time, and Cedric Peerman was a warrior, as he often was, as the Cavaliers toppled their oldest rival, which came into the game 5-1. Verica completed 24 of 38 passes for 217 yards, and seven of eight on the final drive of regulation. Peerman had 44 hard-earned yards on 17 carries, and his two late touchdowns sealed the win. The 'Hoos held the Tar Heels to 332 yards, and Nick Jenkins and Byron Glaspy came up with interceptions. The most dramatic moment may have come when Virginia made it 10-9 with its late TD. Freshman kicker Robert Randolph's extra point attempt was tipped by a UNC player, but it still snuck over the crossbar, and Scott Stadium let out a collective sigh of relief. I got to go on the field after the game with JP. It was definitely a fun time, but looking back, the 2008 team ended up underachieving, and like I said, it wasn't actually a great game from beginning to end, like some on this list, so I slid it down to No. 10.
*9. Sept. 8, 2012 - Virginia 17, Penn State 16: I didn't seriously think about putting this game on the list until rewatching the highlights recently -- wow. I had forgotten just how crazy this game was. Coming into this early-September matchup, the Nittany Lions had lost by 10 points to Ohio, not exactly something to brag about. But Penn State has a brand, and it will always be a big win when UVa beats brand name schools. Plus, PSU was in its first season under new coach Bill O'Brien after Joe Paterno's firing amid the program's child sex abuse scandal, so it's likely fans had more negative feelings toward Penn State than usual. And the Lions actually finished the season with victories in eight of their final 10 games to get to 8-4, so I think this was a high-quality win for the 'Hoos. Despite the low score, a lot was packed into this game, but it is most well known for Penn State kicker Sam Ficken's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day: 1 for 5 on field goals (including a miss from 20 yards) and a crucial blocked extra point by Henry Coley. Amazingly, UVa turned the ball over deep in its own territory four times, but the defense held strong each time, with Ficken making 1 of 3 field goals in those situations, and PSU punted the other time. Virginia held a 10-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter before PSU surged ahead 16-10. The 'Hoos got the ball back with 8:00 left and marched 86 yards on 12 plays in 6:36 to recapture the lead. The drive included four third-down conversions, including the TD pass to Jake McGee, and maybe one of the most improbable plays in UVa history. On third-and-16, QB Michael Rocco was flushed left out of the pocket and flung the ball downfield to McGee into double coverage. As he was being grabbed, McGee jumped into the air and somehow pinned the ball to his chest with his left hand for a 44-yard gain. A flag was thrown for interference, but the catch was still huge, because the penalty would've only been 15 yards. Despite one pick, Rocco outplayed eventual NFL QB Matt McGloin, completing 21 of 33 passes for 258 yards and two scores. After the 'Hoos scored, their defense had to hold on one more time, and well, it could only end one way: with a 42-yard miss by Ficken (who is an NFL kicker, by the way).
*8. Oct. 15, 2011 - Virginia 24, No. 12 Georgia Tech 21: One of the keys to win any football game is to score first, but that was even more true when facing the Yellow Jackets during the Paul Johnson spread option era. Force them to pass, and they became a shell of themselves. Get behind or let them dictate the pace with a 4- or 5-yard rush time and time again, and you were in trouble. Virginia did an excellent job of getting out in front of the 6-0 Jackets, going up 14-0 in the first quarter and 24-14 at halftime. While Rocco shined in the game listed above, it was the running game's turn in this one. Former UVa coach Al Groh was Tech's defensive coordinator, and the Wahoos smashed his defense to the tune of 274 rushing yards. Perry Jones went for a career-high 149 yards, Kevin Parks had 86, and Clifton Richardson added 32. Virginia recorded more than 400 total yards (and the defense held Tech to 296) and ran the final 5:58 off the clock with a masterful 14-play, 66-yard drive that featured just one pass completion: an 18-yarder to Jones on third-and-6 at midfield. This is another victory in which I ended up rushing the field with JP. Perhaps taking a little bit of the luster off of this win is the fact that the Jackets ended up 8-5 in 2011, meaning after the 5-0 start, they went 2-5.
7. Dec. 28, 2002 - Continental Tire Bowl, Charlotte - Virginia 48, No. 15 West Virginia 22: This game -- the first of three bowls I've attended -- moves down one spot since 2009. The Carolina Panthers' stadium was full for the inaugural edition of a bowl game featuring cultural and regional rivals that hadn't met on the gridiron since 1985. The Mountaineers came in 9-3 and ranked in the top 15, and their fans talked lots of trash, living up to their reputation. I remember one instance in which a fan was like, "What are you guys, like [6-6]?" Actually, Virginia came in a respectable 8-5, having won eight of 10 games after an 0-2 start in Groh's second season. I think WVU and its fans overlooked the 'Hoos. The game was close throughout the first quarter, with WVU leading 10-7 at the end of it, but the second quarter was all Cavaliers, and they never looked back after going into the break up 28-10. True freshman tailback Wali Lundy was the game's MVP as he tallied 203 total yards and four touchdowns. A play that sticks out is Virginia's first TD, when Schaub passed quickly to his left to Marques Hagans, who showed off his arm by passing to Lundy in the end zone. The Mountaineers actually outgained the Wahoos, but LB Darryl Blackstock and CB Muffin Curry came up with interceptions, and the game was not close. I think a certain segment of the Virginia fan base would like to face West Virginia more often, but the 'Hoos and Mountaineers haven't matched up since this meeting. They have, however, played each other three times in basketball recently.
*6. Dec. 29, 2018 - Belk Bowl, Charlotte - Virginia 28, South Carolina 0: Much like the 2002 Charlotte bowl, the 2018 edition featured an up-and-coming underrated Cavaliers team and the favored squad talking some trash. South Carolina tight end Kiel Pollard infamously said before the game, "You're supposed to beat up on smaller opponents. I feel like we're the bigger opponent." Of course, the exact opposite happened. UVa scored a touchdown in each quarter to methodically take down the SEC's Gamecocks. In 2002, it was Lundy, a true freshman, that had a breakout performance. In 2018, UVa's seniors had the spotlight. Wideout Olamide Zaccheaus was the game's MVP after recording 12 catches for 100 yards and a trio of TDs. Tailback Jordan Ellis rumbled for 106 yards and the other score. Defensive backs Juan Thornhill and Tim Harris each had a pick, and LB Chris Peace had 1.5 sacks to mark a return to prominence of sorts for UVa football, which finished 8-5 and then built on the success in 2019. After the game, me, my mom, and my uncle, and JP and his parents, ran into some relatives of Thornhill's outside the stadium, and then later, back in Virginia, me, my mom, and my uncle talked to another Thornhill relative (I believe his uncle or cousin) at an Applebee's in Altavista, Juan's hometown. He noticed our shirts and came over and said hi and was very friendly. Somehow, we got off on an NFL tangent, and we said it would be cool if he was drafted by the Cowboys, our favorite team. His uncle said he was a big Redskins fan, and he said he told Juan he would root for him on any team except the Cowboys 😁. Dallas had a need at safety in the draft, but did not take Thornhill, who would up in Kansas City.
5. Nov. 6, 1999 - Virginia 45, No. 7 Georgia Tech 38: More than two decades later, I think this may have been the game that really jump-started my fandom, and it remains in the No. 5 spot. The first game I remember watching on TV was, unfortunately, the 1998 Peach Bowl when Georgia beat Virginia. The first game I went to was Duke at Virginia in 1999 when the Blue Devils won in OT. But this was my second in-person game, and it was a doozy. The Yellow Jackets dominated the first quarter 17-0, and their fight song was getting stuck in my head (but it is probably one of my favorite fight songs today), and fans waved gold and white flags all around me. But despite being led by a Heisman contender at QB in Joe Hamilton, and building that big margin, Georgia Tech could not keep up with the Wahoos in the second half. David Rivers, starting at QB for the injured Dan Ellis, had maybe the best one-off in Virginia football history, completing 18 of 30 passes for 228 yards and three scores. Thomas Jones was awesome, rushing for 213 yards and a pair of TDs. I recall being really excited after the game. Walking back to the car, I started darting in and out of the bus stops, pretending I was Jones. I may have even been holding a football to make it feel more real. Who knows what was allowed into Scott Stadium then.
4. Nov. 4, 2001 - Virginia 39, No. 20 Georgia Tech 38: The Cavaliers won only five games in Groh's first season in Charlottesville, but three were big: at No. 19 Clemson, vs. Penn State, and this one, which stays No. 4. Like the 1999 game between these teams, the Jackets bolted out to a sizable lead -- 13-0 and 20-7 at the half. Virginia scored one TD in the third quarter, setting up a wild final frame that saw the Jackets and 'Hoos combine for 43 points: 25 for UVa and 18 for Tech. The ending is well known in the annals of Virginia football. Bryson Spinner passed to Billy McMullen, who caught the ball at the 26-yard line. As he was getting hit, McMullen lateraled the ball to Alvin Pearman, who was streaking by, and he ran into the end zone untouched with 22 seconds remaining. It was and still is one of best winning plays in Wahoos history. And Spinner, who had to share time in 2001 with Matt Schaub and eventually transferred to Richmond, recorded a stat line that still holds up two decades later: 32 of 46 for 327 yards and five TDs and 72 rushing yards for a combined total of 399 yards, which I believe places him No. 5 in a single game in UVa history (this Wikipedia page does not seem to be updated with Bryce Perkins' 490- and 475-yard performances against UNC and VT, respectively, thus putting Spinner fifth, rather than third, as the page says).
3. Oct. 15, 2005 - Virginia 26, No. 4 Florida State 21: Ten years after their legendary win over No. 2 Florida State, UVa was looking to knock off another top-five Seminoles squad. From the moment he threaded the needle on a TD pass to TE Jonathan Stupar in the corner of the end zone on the game's opening drive, Hagans -- the wideout-turned-QB and current WRs coach of the program -- was on fire. He finished 27 of 36 for 306 yards and a pair of touchdowns, dipping and dodging through oncoming defenders all night. His slippery antics and penchant for making big plays led former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden to say after the game, "We couldn't stop that daggum No. 18," which spawned at least one humorous fantasy football league team for me: Daggum No. 18. Virginia got out in front 23-10 at halftime and held on in the fourth quarter after FSU scored 11 straight points. The Seminoles recorded 377 yards, but QB Drew Weatherford was intercepted three times, by Marcus Hamilton, Chris Gorham, and finally, Tony Franklin to seal the victory. I skipped my senior Homecoming dance to go to this game, and it was definitely worth it, as I ran down from the upper section in the end zone for my first field rush. FSU finished the season 8-5, and Virginia fell flat on its face the next week, losing 7-5 at North Carolina, removing some of the shine from this upset win. It slips one spot in the top 10.
*2. Sept. 14, 2019 - No. 25 Virginia 31, Florida State 24: Recency bias and the unbelievable finish give this victory the edge over the 2005 FSU win. There was a lot packed into this game, most of it occurring in the fourth quarter: a comeback, a missed extra point by Brian Delaney that left Virginia fans shaking their heads and the 'Hoos still down 24-23, a defensive stand, a jaw-dropping 2-point conversion by Perkins, a final desperate FSU drive that was aided by the referees, and a heart-stopping last play that was reminiscent of the ending to the 1995 victory over the 'Noles. A collection of 'Hoos, led by Bryce Hall, stopped tailback Cam Akers at the 4-yard line after he took a direct snap. By the end of the game, it all reached a boiling point, Scott Stadium erupted, and fans poured on to the field, not caring that the Cavaliers were the ranked team. The stadium was nearly full and loud again for a night game. It really felt like UVa football was back in a big way, and JP and I could feel the big-game atmosphere as we were packed into the lower end zone section. Perkins had two picks, the first a terrible one on the opening drive, but he rebounded and completed 30 of 40 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 46 yards. Wayne Taulapapa recorded three rushing TDs, and Joe Reed (eight catches, one TD), Hasise Dubois (seven), and Terrell Jana (seven) all had big nights.
1. Nov. 29, 2003 - Virginia 35, No. 21 Virginia Tech 21: The only win I've witnessed in person over the Hokies retains the top spot. Of course, that means that such victories have been rare, but maybe Bronco Mendenhall is changing that after his 2019 win in the rivalry. These Hokies were nothing special, barely ranked after starting the year No. 9. They limped into Charlottesville having lost the week before at home to Boston College and had dropped three of five overall. Still, by 2003, Hokie mania had overtaken the state after the Michael Vick era and Tech's run to the 1999 national championship game. Virginia had lost to its bitter rival four consecutive times, every time by double digits as the Hokies got revenge for the 1998 Cavaliers rally in Lane. So you can excuse UVa fans for being a little bloodthirsty in this one. It was slow going at first, but the second half was all Cavaliers, with a fake field goal pass from Schaub (32 of 46, 358 yards, two TDs) to Heath Miller (13 catches, 145 yards) the cherry on top of the sundae, one last humiliating kick to the shins of Frank Beamer and the Hokies. I was in 10th grade, a relatively eager and fresh Cavaliers fan, and had I known what was coming for the program, maybe I would've soaked in the moment as Tech fans left the stadium even more. But hopefully there will be many more chances to attend Virginia victories in this series in the future.
And that's my revised top 10. Let's hope the next decade brings even more need for updates! Feel free to let me know the best UVa games you've been to (or any other sporting events) at firstname.lastname@example.org.