Moving on is tougher for some than for others.
Virginia’s hopes for an Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division crown and a consequent trip to the league’s title game were alive until the waning minutes this past Saturday evening at Heinz Field.
Somehow Pittsburgh wide receiver Jordan Addison corralled a pass from quarterback Kenny Pickett that appeared destined to be intercepted by Cavaliers cornerback Darrius Bratton. He was in the right position to create a turnover and give UVa’s offense one more shot to take a lead. Addison ripped it away for the catch, though, and sprinted for a 62-yard touchdown that provided the Panthers the 48-38 score they used to beat the Hoos and capture the Coastal.
“I had my hand up thinking it was an interception,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday during his weekly press conference. “And I had it down within microseconds, and that was and is the margin for difference in winning a Coastal championship.”
So, the Cavaliers sit at 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the ACC without the incentive of being able to win their way into the ACC championship game as they prepare for rival Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4 ACC) to visit Scott Stadium for a 3:45 p.m. kickoff on Saturday afternoon.
“I really, really, really, really, really wanted that Coastal championship,” UVa senior safety Joey Blount said.
But at the same time, Blount noted he, his teammates and his coach want to knock off their in-state nemesis badly, too.
That would cap the regular season in winning fashion for UVa after losing three straight games, but in order for the Cavaliers to do so, they’ll try to avoid letting the emotions of their loss to Pitt hangover into this week and negatively impact their planning and practicing for Virginia Tech.
UVa can make it two victories in the last three seasons over the Hokies with a win this week.
“When you invest as much as our program has to win the Coastal Division,” Mendenhall said, “the thought of ‘OK, just move on,’ that’s not realistic. But knowing here comes the next real meaningful game that has so much meaning to our program, certainly it’ll help and it’s a great lesson for us all in terms of setbacks that come.”
Said Cavaliers junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong: “I’m ready to go. Losing is terrible and I love winning, but you got to keep going. … I came in excited for meetings and I’m ready to get our script and start working on that against [Virginia Tech].”
Blount said he remembers all the good that came along with the Cavaliers’ 39-30 win over Virginia Tech two years ago. That triumph for UVa snapped a Virginia Tech winning streak of 15 in a row against the Cavaliers.
He said it took experiencing a win in the rivalry to understand what one truly meant to the Cavaliers.
“It’s going to show that it’s growth. Every year we’re trying to get better,” Blount said. “With a newer program like ours – and our coaches have been here for a while, but it’s not 10, 20 years that a coach has been here – we’re getting new players. It’s going to help with recruiting, the program and just highlighting what we’re working on here overall. It kind of shows we’re trying to win the state.”
Armstrong said he’d like to enter the offseason with momentum, and a victory would grant UVa the opportunity to end the campaign with consecutive wins. The Cavaliers are already bowl eligible.
“There’s a difference between 8-5, 7-6 or 6-,” Armstrong said, “but 8-5 sounds a lot better than the other two. You might as well go off, whatever happened with Pitt that’s behind us, so just two wins and you feel a lot better and you kind of forget about all the other losses.”
A 7-5 mark as opposed to a 6-6 mark at the regular season’s conclusion would likely make UVa more attractive during the bowl selection process, too.
Some postseason possibilities for UVa, according projections from multiple national outlets, include the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York, the Holiday Bowl at PetCo Park in San Diego, the Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas or the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md.