The Cavalier Daily
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Virginia seniors close careers with pride

A pumped-up Penn State team and its rowdy fans made their intention to win in Charlottesville loud and clear on Saturday. Even before the starting kickoff, the roar of "We are" came from one corner of the stadium and was answered by the other side with "Penn State," over and over. Self-doubting Virginia fans were drowned out at their own Scott Stadium.

But although the Cavaliers didn't seem to have much to play for - a win wouldn't give them a shot at a postseason and a chance at even a winning season was already gone - they showed up to make a thunderous statement of their own on Saturday.

Virginia proved that it has a rarely visible but, when provoked, relentless and punishing sense of pride.

The Cavaliers came out hungry for victory simply because "we had the chance to win a game," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "You've got to compete because you have a chance to win."

Cavaliers senior linebacker and ACC defensive back of the week John Duckett was the first to prove that he wasn't about to let the Nittany Lions go home still cheering. With 65 solo tackles already under his belt this season, Duckett made his 66th, his most memorable, when he knocked the ball loose from the hands of Penn State quarterback Zack Mills who was just 8 yards shy of a touchdown. Virginia sophomore Art Thomas' subsequent recovery and touchdown run put the Cavaliers back in the game.

"John Duckett got a great strip on the play," Groh said. "It is one of those things you work on and run the drills on it, but the players have to make. It was a great effort by John. Quite obviously, it turned the game. Everything that followed was a result of the play."

Virginia senior punter Mike Abrams made his own contribution to the Cavaliers' success. Abrams, who was named ACC specialist of the week, kicked for 209 yards on five punts, including a 54-yarder that dropped on the 1-yard line.

However, Abrams' performance on Saturday was hardly more outstanding than his accomplishments for the season as a whole. He consistently excelled for the Cavaliers' special teams even when the rest of his support broke down. Abrams' punts averaged 42.2 yards on the season, the longest of which went 67 yards. In general, it seemed that Abrams made it his personal mission to step up time after time to punt the ball a safe distance away for the Cavaliers on their many bad days.

But more than anyone else, it was senior running back Antwoine Womack who proved beyond a doubt that his pride in the Cavaliers was more than enough to carry Virginia through for a victory. Womack, who missed most of the 2001 season with an injury, had never had to feel the pain of a team with a losing season in his years at Virginia. But after his reappearance, and especially against Penn State, he made it obvious that he felt the irresistible burn to prove the doubters wrong.

"We had a down season," Womack said. "We weren't going to a bowl, so we just wanted the school to pump it up. "The young guys needed this going into the spring. We [the seniors] needed it because we never had a season like this - winning five games."

Womack dominated the Cavaliers' ground game against the Nittany Lions, rushing for 153 yards on 31 carries, including one 44-yard run that helped set Virginia up for its first points of the game.

"I think Antwoine showed today in living color all of the things we talked about," Groh said.

"That's our guy right there and everybody saw it by the way he was playing today," Duckett said about Womack after the game. "He did a heck of a job."

On Saturday, the Cavaliers reminded some of us and proved to others that Virginia's football team does not lack heart. Despite a less-than-stellar year

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