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Cavaliers lost steam after failed fourth down conversion

As poorly as Virginia played at times Saturday night, the Cavaliers remained in contention throughout most of their 33-21 defeat at Georgia Tech because the Yellow Jackets appeared intent on making enough mistakes of their own to compensate. With roughly 13 minutes left in the game, Virginia started a drive on its own 39 yard-line trailing by 13. At that point, a comeback seemed plausible.

Quarterback Marc Verica completed a 52-yard pass to Dontrelle Inman on the first play of the drive to give the Cavaliers first and goal from the nine yard-line. And that's when things went awry.

On first down, Verica's pass attempt to tailback Keith Payne fell incomplete. Payne picked up five yards on the ground on second down and two more rushing yards on third down. That set up a fourth and goal from the two yard-line. A touchdown would pull Virginia to within six points of the lead with more than 11 minutes to play.

"It’s hard to score," Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor said. "And when you put yourself in a one-play situation, then you’ve got to make it happen."

Virginia called a timeout to change the formation and the play call. When Verica dropped back to pass, he went through his progressions: His first target -- tight end Colter Phillips -- was covered, and so was Payne, his second target. The third target, wide receiver Matt Snyder, was blanketed as well, but at that point Verica had run out of passing options. He threw to Snyder, who was running a slant, but the pass fell incomplete.

Several Virginia players on the field, as well as a few coaches on the sideline, lobbied for pass interference to be called on Georgia Tech cornerback Rod Sweeting to no avail.

"It was kind of a bang-bang play in the end zone," Verica said. "It was really tight coverage, and we just didn’t come up with the play."

With as well as Payne was running at that point in the game -- he finished with 56 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries -- Lazor was asked whether he considered going to Payne on that first and goal.

"Oh yeah, I considered it," Lazor said. "I’ve got a long list of things to do, and we gave it to him on second and third, if my memory serves me right. And we said from the beginning, when we’re in the red zone and we hand off a run, we expect to score on that play."

Lazor said he did not regret calling for a pass play on the fourth and goal and that Georgia Tech simply "out-executed" the Cavaliers on that play. The entire sequence -- from first and goal to fourth and goal -- could have gone much smoother, Lazor said.

"I think when you’re in that situation and you feel fairly strongly that your head coach will want to go for it, you know, you’ve just got to call things that can score," Lazor said. "I think we’re in a situation there where we’d like to score on one play, so it’s almost like four fourth and goals, really, because when you’re behind, you’ve got to score. And when you take too many minutes to get it in with four plays, then you’ve kind of hurt yourself."

Asked for his take on the failed fourth and goal attempt, Coach Mike London said: "There’s maybe one, two quick reads, but the throw was there, he was there, and you know, I just thought – let me put it this way, I just thought something should have been thrown on that, but it wasn’t, and that’s the way the game goes."

On its ensuing drive, Georgia Tech marched 98 yards in 11 plays and capped the offensive series with an eight-yard touchdown run by running back Anthony Allen to all but put the game out of reach for the Cavaliers.

By Steve Yanda  | October 11, 2010; 9:01 AM ET
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