From the archives: My top 10 UVa football games list from 2009

Last week, my friend JP and I published posts detailing the top 10 non-UVa sporting events we've attended, and did a top five for Virginia games. This idea came to me a few weeks ago when I was thinking about old columns I had written for The Cavalier Daily as a student. Specifically, I remembered writing columns at the beginning of the football and basketball seasons in 2009 listing the top 10 UVa games I had attended for each of those sports. Before last week's post, I decided I wanted to update those lists, and I will do so eventually. But I also thought it would be fun to re-publish those old columns here, to see what I considered to be great games more than a decade ago. The football list holds up pretty well, but as you can imagine, the basketball list is going to need some
Matt Schaub quarterbacked Virginia to a victory
over Virginia Tech in 2003, the team's only win
in the rivalry from 1999-2018. (Virginian-Pilot)
serious work because the first one was compiled before the Tony Bennett era (more on that when I get to it). So, my plan is to re-publish the 2009 football list first, then do a new top 10 for football, containing some of these old games below (with new commentary) but also of course games from the 2010-2019 seasons, and finally do a look-ahead to the 2020 football campaign. After that, I'll move on to the basketball lists.

So first, here is my top 10 list of UVa football games I had attended from 2009, with only minor edits and the addition of video highlights (in the case of the 2002 Continental Tire bowl, the entire game, because I couldn't find highlights).

From early September 2009: The list consists of mainly home games, but also one away game and one bowl game. The time frame spans from 1999 and 2000, when I attended three games each of those seasons, to 2001, when my family bought season tickets, to last year. In all, I’ve seen 58 Virginia games in person with an overall record of 43-15 (stats I became curious about once I started this column). I’ve missed two home games since 2001 — a surprise 34-21 win against No. 22 South Carolina in 2002 when Virginia was 0-2, and an even more shocking 31-0 trampling of Maryland last season the week after Virginia got blown out by Duke — yes, Duke. If you were lucky and actually attended Virginia’s epic 33-28 win against Florida State in 1995, the come-from-behind victory at Virginia Tech in 1998 or you’re a little bit older and were a witness to the Cavaliers’ first bowl win — the 1984 Peach Bowl against Purdue — then let me know at or in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experiences. OK, on to the list. Unless otherwise specified, the game was played in Charlottesville.

10. Sept. 9, 2006 - Virginia 13, Wyoming 12 (OT): Had I not been going to Virginia games for seven years before this game, it would be higher on the list. This was my first home game as a student. Despite the lack of points and a subpar opponent in Wyoming, this game could not have induced more thrills. Wyoming used fake punts to convert on fourth down not once, but twice. The Cowboys fumbled on the Virginia 1-yard line in the third quarter, missing a chance to get ahead 13-3. UVa scored on the first possession of overtime to go up 13-6. Wyoming answered with a touchdown, but missed the tying extra point. My, that kicker must’ve been sick afterward.

9. Sept. 15, 2007 - Chapel Hill, N.C. - Virginia 22, North Carolina 20: During my second year, I got the opportunity to cover Virginia football games for The Cavalier Daily. This was one of two road games I attended that year (a 29-24 loss at N.C. State was the other). This game had it all, as explained by the opening in my recap: “In a wild game that featured a dramatic 2-point conversion attempt to tie the game in the final minutes, a wacky field goal and a malfunctioning clock, it was clear that anything was possible — even a road victory — when Virginia traveled to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels on Saturday.” The wacky field goal was a long, 48-yarder by Chris Gould in the third quarter. The kick clearly went through the uprights but was initially ruled no good. The Cavaliers challenged the play, and the call was overturned. Running back Cedric Peerman tallied 223 total yards.

8. Nov. 23, 2002 - Virginia 48, No. 18 Maryland 13: “Maryland easy.” Those were the words I remember Kirk Herbstreit saying on “College GameDay” the morning before this game. The opposite ended up coming true as the Cavaliers absolutely destroyed the Terrapins, who were the defending ACC champions. UVa quarterback Matt Schaub completed 23 of 27 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. While I don’t know if Herbstreit fueled any of Virginia’s fire, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen certainly did. In a article following the game, Wahoos linebacker Merrill Robertson said players were furious after Friedgen said before the game that he expected his team to beat squads such as Duke and Virginia. Oops, big mistake there, Fridge.

7. Nov. 3, 2007 - Virginia 17, No. 21 Wake Forest 16: This close game from 2007 sticks out in my mind for a few reasons. The Cavaliers would simply not be denied a victory. Yes, some luck was involved. Wake Forest All-America kicker Sam Swank missed two of his five field goals. But on a couple of occasions, the Demon Deacons drove deep into Virginia territory only to be turned back by a stellar defensive performance. I was in the press box for this game along with alumnus Ernie Washington. You are supposed to remain quiet in the box and not show your allegiances and, at one point, a reporter told Ernie to keep his voice down. It was that type of intense game. When Swank missed the final game-winning field goal wide right, we were holding on to each other and shaking to stave off the shouts of joy.

6. Dec. 28, 2002 - Continental Tire Bowl, Charlotte - Virginia 48, No. 15 West Virginia 22: A complete drubbing of West Virginia concluded former UVa coach Al Groh’s first nine-win season directing the 'Hoos. It also snapped a four-game losing streak in bowls for Virginia. Cavaliers running back Wali Lundy gained 203 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns. West Virginia fans were not the most cordial to be around. They insulted my dad and actually took a sign away from a Virginia fan — a child, I believe — in a wheelchair. Yes, I saw it with my own eyes.

5. Nov. 6, 1999; Virginia 45, No. 7 Georgia Tech 38: The incredulousness alone of this game should have landed it higher, but competition is tough at the top. In the second UVa game I witnessed in person, Virginia signal-caller David Rivers, starting for the injured Dan Ellis, made the most of his first and only start at quarterback, completing 18 of 30 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Thomas Jones was tremendous, rushing for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Georgia Tech came in ranked in the top 10 and with Heisman Trophy contender Joe Hamilton at quarterback. Virginia stormed back to win the shootout after falling behind 17-0 after the first quarter. I remember walking back to the car and darting around on the sidewalk, pretending I was Jones.

4. Nov. 4, 2001 - Virginia 39, No. 20 Georgia Tech 38: This one is only eclipsed by field rushes and a win against the archrival. A lowly 3-6 Virginia team went blow-for-blow with the ranked Yellow Jackets, as the teams combined for 43 fourth-quarter points. Virginia quarterback Bryson Spinner completed 32 of 46 passes for 327 yards and five scores. The go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds was jaw-dropping. With Georgia Tech up 38-33 and Virginia on the Jackets' 37-yard line, Spinner hit Billy McMullen around the 26-yard line, and he tossed a lateral to running back Alvin Pearman, who caught the ball and went streaking up the sideline for the touchdown with 22 seconds left (video below). After the seconds ticked off, pandemonium ensued.

3. Oct. 18, 2008 - Virginia 16, No. 18 North Carolina 13 (OT): The game itself wasn’t spectacular until Virginia’s tying drive in the fourth quarter. Then it took off. With the Tar Heels up 10-3 and two minutes left, quarterback Marc Verica completed seven of his eight passes on the tying drive, and Peerman scored to make it 10-9. But then there was the extra point. No problem, right? Wrong. The ball got tipped in midair but still barely made it over the crossbar. I’m pretty sure at that point, I had to sit for a minute in complete shock. Could I stand an overtime period? But the Cavaliers actually made it look easy in the extra session. They held North Carolina to a field goal and then Peerman scored his second touchdown to get the win. Rushing the field launches this game into the top three.

2. Oct. 15, 2005 - Virginia 26, No. 4 Florida State 21: I missed my high school senior Homecoming dance for this one, and it was a great choice. Ten years after Virginia handed Florida State its first ACC loss, the Cavaliers were at it again. Virginia’s scrambling quarterback, Marques Hagans, was so elusive, FSU coach Bobby Bowden quipped after the game, “We couldn’t stop that dadgum No. 18.” The senior completed 27 of 36 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Virginia entered the fourth quarter up 26-10 and held on when Tony Franklin intercepted quarterback Drew Weatherford in the closing minute, preserving the win against the undefeated Seminoles. With my parents in the nosebleed section, I told them I’d catch them later back at the car and ran down to the field.

1. Nov. 29, 2003 - Virginia 35, No. 21 Virginia Tech 21: No rushing the field in this one. Just a good old-fashioned beatdown of your archrival. Schaub was brilliant on his senior day, completing 32 of 46 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns. Down 14-7 at halftime, the Cavaliers scored 21 consecutive points in the second half to take the lead. The Hokies pulled to within a touchdown, but a final touchdown drive that included a fake field goal pass to tight end Heath Miller clinched Groh’s only win against Tech. The feeling I had as I watched Tech fans walk down the aisles before the game was over was indescribable.

And that’s my top 10 list of the best Virginia games I’ve attended. Hopefully at least one during the upcoming season will make the list. A win against a particular team Nov. 28 would most certainly compete for the top spot. I’m crossing my fingers now.

Narrator, in 2020: No, that Nov. 28 game did not end up in the top 10 list, more like the bottom 10 maybe. As did each UVa-VT game from 2004-2018. 😒