CHAPEL HILL, N.C.-An errant gust of wind. A foolhardy gnat. An extra bit of moisture in the air from a cloudburst shower during the fourth quarter. They're just some of the things that could have impeded Todd Braverman's last-minute field goal in the Virginia football team's season opener at North Carolina.
But they didn't.
Instead, Braverman nailed the kick with 32.9 seconds remaining to give the Cavaliers a 20-17 victory over North Carolina, and their first victory at Chapel Hill since 1990.
The kick, a 50-yarder, was the longest of Braverman's career. Initially, it looked as if the ball would fall short of the crossbar. But, with the wind at his back, the football sailed on its extremely unhappy course to just clear the bar and clinch the Cavs' triumph.
"I wouldn't have sent him out there if I didn't think he had a chance," Virginia coach George Welsh said.
Reaction as the pigskin flew towards the uprights ranged from confidence to total surprise.
"I thought it was good," tailback Thomas Jones said. "It was a great win for us. It's a really big confidence boost for our team."
"I actually thought it went under the bar from where I was standing," quarterback Dan Ellis said. "It's a good thing I wasn't making the call."
Until Braverman's game-winner, it seemed as if fate was against Virginia. Heel quarterback Ron Curry gave Virginia fits with his ability to scramble and throw on the run. Curry ran for 55 yards on the day, and evaded pursuing defenders countless times.
"We had him in situations [where] we thought we had him sacked," linebacker Byron Thweatt said. "But he's just got good escape [ability] and mobility. And if I've never said that he's a good athlete, today I say that he is a good athlete."
To make matters worse, a series of injuries meant there were fewer and fewer Cavaliers to chase Curry.
In the Heels' first drive, Monsanto Pope tore his medialcollateral ligament, and is slated to miss six weeks.
As the game progressed, cornerback Dwayne Stukes left with a thigh bruise and defensive back Antwan Harris had to rotate in and out because of cramping. Defensive end Travis Griffith injured his ankle, to go along with an already sore back.
"We don't have anybody left on defense," Welsh said.
While the defense was stretched to the utmost and the passing game attempted to click under quarterback Dan Ellis, Jones provided some consistency. The fourth year from Big Stone Gap, Va., amassed 149 yards and one touchdown while carrying the pigskin a whopping 35 times.
"My legs were cramping up a little bit but other than that I'm okay," Jones said. "I expected to get a lotta carries."
Meanwhile, Ellis suffered from some inconsistency. While he connected on a beautiful 32-yard touchdown strike to Kevin Coffey, he also threw three interceptions. Antwan Black ran one of those back for a Carolina score at the end of the first half.
"Overall, I was just short-arming some of my passes, so maybe I was getting a little anxious," Ellis said. "That's something I have to work on in practice. I think we can get a ton better on offense."
Coffey was Ellis' favorite target Saturday. He finished the game with 101 yards on four catches.