CHARLOTTESVILLE — The best thing that could have happened to the Virginia Tech-Virginia rivalry was for the Cavaliers to win it like this.
The Hokies didn’t back into Virginia, like they would have had they lost last year. Instead, the Cavaliers caught up.
Expressed another way — and finally putting this metaphor to rest is another positive to come out of Friday’s result — Lucy didn’t get lazy. Charlie Brown had been doing wind sprints. His boot and the ball were destined to meet at some point.
Let’s be honest: The movie “Groundhog Day” got positive reviews because Bill Murray starred in it. The plot itself — a man wakes up day after day to the exact same circumstances until he finally changes them — was as tedious as a political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
UVa’s 39-30 victory at Scott Stadium relieves us of this. And while the Hokies certainly won’t be eager to look at positives in the immediate aftermath of their first loss against UVa in 16 tries, the fact is that their consistency put the onus on the commonwealth’s other Power 5 team to get better.
“I respect their program and I respect them as a rival,” fourth-year UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “The quality of their program has helped us improve our program. They’ve set a standard that has been helpful for us to measure against and to grow against in the short time I’ve been here.”
For all the vitriol you’ll see on social media, the truth is that Tech and UVa fans have plenty in common. You could see it in the parking lots here on Friday morning, as folks clad in maroon and orange ate, drank and laughed alongside their UVa counterparts.
Tech and UVa fans work together, dine together and even marry each other. The football discussions of the past decade and a half — “This’ll be the year!” “Oh, no it won’t!” — just got a healthy injection of variety.
The 2020 Commonwealth Cup game should be extra fun.
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Having been in the press box for every game during The Streak, I’ve been trying to think about when this edition of the rivalry truly felt different. And given all the ways the Hokies have found ways to win it (and/or the Cavaliers have found ways to lose it) over the years, maybe UVa quarterback Bryce Perkins is right when he says it wasn’t until the game clock hit triple zeroes.
But I think there was an early moment that showed some psychological vulnerability in Tech.
It came with less than four minutes to go in the first quarter. Virginia led 6-0. The Hokies, having squandered a first and goal opportunity at the 7-yard line with three fruitless rushing attempts, faced a fourth and goal from the 3.
Now, my theory on these situations is that you should always surmise what the other team would want you to do — and then do the opposite. I’m guessing every UVa fan in the building was glad when Tech brought out the field goal unit.
More than that, though, it feels like Tech would have gone for it here many times in the past. The Hokies have loved being the bully in this series, and there’s no better way to show off your swashbuckling confidence than by punching that ball into the end zone after the Cavaliers and their fans believed they’d gotten a stop.
Remember how well Tech’s defense had been playing in recent weeks? Even if the Hokies don’t get the touchdown there, they still likely have UVa backed up in a precarious situation.
Tech coach Justin Fuente opted to kick the field goal. And maybe that was the right move, but it also felt like an unfamiliar show of respect in this rivalry. It felt … well, different.
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Players are way more resilient than the most vocal of fans. This applies to both Tech and UVa when we consider what happens next.
As frustrating as this result was for the Hokies, it shouldn’t carry over to their bowl game.
“Every loss feels the same,” Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker said. “It is the same pain. It creates a new desire, a new hunger, a new reason behind what you are doing.”
We heard similar comments from UVa players last season after their loss to Tech in Blacksburg. Then they went out and blitzed South Carolina 28-0 in the Belk Bowl.
Of course, the challenge ahead of the 2019 Cavaliers is different. After an experience that many players called one of the best of their lives, they now head to Charlotte to face defending national champion Clemson for the ACC title.
“It’s not an accident that we’re going,” Mendenhall said. “We don’t intend just to take a trip and see what it looks like.”
UVa receiver Hasise Dubois put it even more succinctly, when asked how hard it would be to come down off this high and refocus: “It won’t be hard.”
Nope. Players are resilient. And for UVa, the hardest part is over.