While no night games have graced Scott Stadium yet this fall, a track record of program-altering wins lies in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers have stalled dynasties, spoiled national championship hopes and restored glory to the Virginia football program all in late night games.
No. 24 Virginia vs. No. 2 Florida State, Nov. 2, 1995
It would be out-of-this-world to not consider this game as one of the all-time greats in the history of Virginia football. Albeit before my lifetime, I remember the immortalized clip of the stop by safety Anthony Poindexter on Warrick Dunn, star Florida State running back, to save Virginia in the last seconds — propelling the team to a 33-28 victory over the No. 2 ranked team in the country. Keep in mind that the Cavaliers were no slouches themselves, having come into the contest carrying a No. 24 national ranking and a 6-3 record. The Seminoles, however, had more than established themselves as an ACC powerhouse. With legendary coach Bobby Bowden at the helm, Florida State had won three consecutive ACC titles and all of its 29 conference games since it first joined the ACC in 1992 in addition to being two years off of a national championship victory.
In a full-capacity Scott Stadium on an early November night, the Cavaliers seized the moment by capturing what is arguably the most impactful win in school history. Running back Tiki Barber — a future NFL star — made a statement on national television by accounting for an astounding 311 yards from scrimmage. The hype surrounding the Seminoles’ Dunn may have driven Tiki Barber on to even greater heights. Moreover, the Virginia defense limited a Seminole offense that had scored over 70 points in three of its first seven games in 1995. The combination of Poindexter and Tiki Barber’s twin brother — defensive back Ronde Barber — would be enough to keep Florida State at bay in what would be the first top-five win in Virginia football history.
Virginia vs. No. 4 Florida State, Oct. 15, 2005
Lo and behold, Virginia did the impossible against the Seminoles once more. The Cavaliers had come off of back-to-back losses in ACC play in 2005, yet set their sights on the mighty Florida State in Charlottesville. Quarterback Marques Hagans stunned the No. 4 Seminoles by carrying the unranked Cavaliers to victory, 26-21. Hagans — at this point, the wide receivers coach at Virginia — gave Bowden’s team fits throughout. The similarities between the 2005 and 1995 wins are uncanny. Hagans and the aforementioned Tiki Barber decimated the Florida State defenses they faced, while the defense came up when it mattered most.
Moreover, this would be the second top-five win in the history of Virginia football — déjà vu against the Seminoles. It may be fitting to conclude that Virginia is the true Achilles’ heel for the Seminoles, who, despite their combination of elite talent and national prestige — have often fallen to the dragon slayer at Scott Stadium.
Virginia vs. No. 16 Miami, Oct. 13, 2018
If you enjoy high-powered offenses, the 2018 slugfest between Miami and Virginia would not suit your taste. The Hurricanes — who entered the contest averaging 41.5 points per game — were the unstoppable force who met an immovable object in the Cavalier defense. Both quarterbacks featured by Miami threw at least one interception, while Virginia gunslinger Bryce Perkins tossed for 92 yards and three picks of his own even in victory. Each team thus turned to their rushing units for some sort of spark. Virginia, however, outmaneuvered the Hurricanes through a relentless rushing attack of Perkins and running back Jordan Ellis — having finished the game with one touchdown and 86 rushing yards.
An old-fashioned gameplan gave the Cavaliers the edge under the lights at Scott Stadium. Cavalier fans stormed the field after their team’s victory, thus celebrating a 4-2 start to the season and a potential bid for the ACC Coastal title. Similar to Florida State, Miami’s position as an ACC juggernaut gave Virginia good reason to celebrate against a top-25 opponent. Wins against these sorts of teams did not come often for a middle-to-lower tier ACC program. However, the first year of the Perkins’ era — resulting in an 8-5 record — was largely successful thanks to the win against Miami and a Belk Bowl shutout of SEC foe South Carolina.
Virginia vs. No. 15 North Carolina, Oct. 31, 2020
Literally the epitome of a Halloween game, the offensive clash between the Tar Heels and the Cavaliers resulted in a high-scoring affair in Scott Stadium. North Carolina — ranked No. 15 at the time and boasting five future NFL draft picks on the offensive side — had only lost on the road to Florida State prior to its visit to Charlottesville. Nonetheless, Virginia rode its rushing attack — a rare occasion in senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s tenure — to 210 yards and outpaced the equally-successful Tar Heel offense. This would not be a game characterized by defensive play. Virginia yielded 443 yards and four passing touchdowns to star quarterback Sam Howell, yet four of Armstrong’s own passing touchdowns gave the Cavaliers the slight edge.
Despite COVID-19’s severe impact on attendance in the 2020 season — only 1,000 fans were admitted into this contest — a palpable buzz lingered over Virginia’s win in the South’s Oldest Rivalry. Virginia triumphed over what was a serious Heisman candidate in Howell while holding future NFL running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams to 118 yards combined on the ground. More importantly, Virginia carried a meager 1-4 record into their contest against the Tar Heels. The Cavaliers then put together a streak of four consecutive wins up until the painful loss at Virginia Tech, one which put a damper on what would have been an impressive season turnaround.