Recent history of the Commonwealth Cup game — Virginia vs. No. 23 Virginia Tech

Historic losses would make victory all the sweeter for the Cavaliers

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This year, the Cavaliers look to snap the infamous 15-year losing streak in front of a raucous home crowd. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

In an all-too-familiar battle, there is always much more on the line when the Cavaliers suit up to take on the Hokies than a simple win or loss. It is a fight for pride, bragging rights and ownership of the Commonwealth Cup. This time, even more is at stake. 

With both Virginia and No. 23 Virginia Tech sitting at 8-3 with identical conference records, the teams are tied for first place in the ACC Coastal. Beyond a crucial rivalry victory, the winning team will claim the Coastal title and move on to the ACC Championship.

As the teams descend upon Scott Stadium to face off Friday, it is worth looking back at the history of the Commonwealth Cup game.

The Cavaliers (8-3, 5-2 ACC) have not defeated the Hokies (8-3, 5-2 ACC) since 2003. Virginia Tech has won the last 15 straight games.

To put how long that has been in perspective, 2003 was one year prior to Virginia Tech joining the ACC. The 35-21 Virginia win snapped what was then a much shorter four-game losing streak — from 1999 to 2002 — for the Cavaliers in the rivalry game. 

In that game, the Virginia offense was led by quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw for 358 yards and two touchdown passes. Since then, Schaub was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2004 and played for the Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens in a long NFL career. He returned to Atlanta in 2016 as the backup, where he still plays this season.

The Hokies’ streak has also lasted through multiple coaching changes on the part of both teams since 2003.

Al Groh coached Virginia up until 2009, followed by Mike London — who had some initial success but left the program floundering — who was replaced by Coach Bronco Mendenhall after the 2015 season.

While Virginia Tech’s coaching situation has had more continuity, the Hokies also made a coaching change after the 2015 season. Frank Beamer retired — he was coach for 28 seasons — and was replaced in by current Coach Justin Fuente.

Friday’s game won’t be the first time the two squads have played with a championship game appearance at stake.

In 2007, Virginia Tech won 33-21 in a season where both teams were nationally ranked — the No. 8 Hokies beat No. 16 Virginia. Virginia Tech went on to win the ACC Championship that year against Boston College, 30-16. 

A championship game appearance was again on the line in 2011, and the Hokies won a lopsided 38-0 affair.

In recent history under Mendenhall, the Cavaliers have demonstrated improvement in their performance in the Commonwealth Cup game. 

After being blown out 52-10 in their first season under Mendenhall in 2016 and then shut out 10-0 in 2017, the Cavaliers nearly snapped their losing streak last season. In a nail-biter that came down to a 42-yard field goal by Hokie kicker Brian Johnson, Virginia fell 34-31 in overtime at Lane Stadium.

Regardless of what happens in this game, this year marks another improvement in Virginia’s goal of winning the Coastal division. The fact that the Cavaliers are playing for the Coastal in their last game of the season is significant.

“Last year there were a couple overtime losses that ended up affecting our chance to win the Coastal,” Mendenhall said in his Monday press conference. “This year it comes down to the very last game, which is another step and another sign of growth in the program.”

A win against Virginia Tech would mark one of the last hurdles for the Cavaliers in their steady improvement since the 2016 season. Seniors this year remember the bitter 52-10 loss in 2016, and those in their final year of eligibility — like wide receiver Joe Reed and defensive tackle Eli Hanback — will have one last chance at winning the Commonwealth Cup. They have been a part of the Mendenhall turnaround, and want to end it at Scott Stadium on a high note.

Regardless of Coastal implications, a win in a rivalry game is satisfying for players and fans alike, as Virginia cornerback Almondo Curry attested to in 2003 — the last time Virginia won.

"It feels so good just to beat Virginia Tech," Curry said. 

The winner of the Commonwealth Cup will move on to the ACC championship game to face No. 3 Clemson Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C. 

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