While no night games have yet happened at Scott Stadium this fall, Charlottesville has a track record of program-changing victories. The Cavaliers have brought dynasties to a standstill, spoiled national championship hopes and restored luster to Virginia’s football program, all in late-night games.
#24 Virginia vs. #2 Florida State, Nov. 2, 1995
It would be out of this world not to consider this game one of the all-time greats in Virginia football history. Though before my life, I remember safety stop Anthony Poindexter’s immortalized clip of Florida State star Warrick Dunn running back to save Virginia in the dying seconds – leading the team to a 33-28 win over the number 2 drifted team in the country. Keep in mind that the Cavaliers were no louts themselves, coming into the competition with a No. 24 national ranking and a 6-3 record. However, the Seminoles had more than established themselves as an ACC powerhouse. Led by legendary coach Bobby Bowden, Florida State had won three consecutive ACC titles and all of its 29 conference games since first joining the ACC in 1992, and was also two years away from a national championship win.
At a full capacity Scott Stadium on an early November night, the Cavaliers seized the moment by capturing arguably the most impressive win in school history. Running back Tiki Barber — a future NFL star — made a statement on national television by running an amazing 311 yards from scrimmage. The hype surrounding Dunn of the Seminoles may have propelled Tiki Barber to even greater heights. Additionally, Virginia’s defense limited a Seminole offense that had over 70 points in three of their first seven games in 1995. The combination of Poindexter and Tiki Barber’s twin brother – defenseman Ronde Barber – would be enough to keep Florida State at bay What would be Virginia’s first top-five win in football history?
Virginia vs. Florida State No. 4, October 15, 2005
Lo and behold, Virginia did impossible again against the Seminoles. The Cavaliers were coming off back-to-back losses in the 2005 ACC game but had their sights set on mighty Florida State in Charlottesville. Quarterback Marques Hagans stunned the No. 4 Seminoles by leading the unranked Cavaliers to victory 26-21. Hagans — by this point the Virginia wide receivers coach — consistently gave Bowden’s team fits. The similarities between the 2005 and 1995 victories are uncanny. Hagans and the aforementioned Tiki Barber decimated the Florida State defenses they faced while defenses showed up when it mattered most.
It would also be the second Top 5 win in Virginia football history — a déjà vu against the Seminoles. It may be fair to conclude that Virginia is the real Achilles’ heel for the Seminoles, who despite their combination of elite talent and national prestige have often fallen prey to the Dragon Slayer at Scott Stadium.
Virginia vs. No. 16 Miami, October 13, 2018
If you like strong attacks, this is 2018 slugfest between Miami and Virginia would not be to your liking. The Hurricanes – who entered the contest averaging 41.5 points per game – were the unstoppable force that hit an immovable object in the Cavalier defense. Both quarterbacks featured by Miami threw at least one interception, while Virginia gunslinger Bryce Perkins threw for 92 yards and three picks himself in the win. Each team therefore turned to its rushing units for some kind of spark. However, Virginia outmaneuvered the Hurricanes with a relentless attack from Perkins and ran back Jordan Ellis – after ending the game with a touchdown and 86 rushing yards.
An old-fashioned game plan gave the Cavaliers the edge under the lights at Scott Stadium. Cavalier fans stormed the field after their team’s win, celebrating a 4-2 start to the season and a possible bid for the ACC Coastal title. Much like Florida State, Miami’s position as the ACC juggernaut gave Virginia good reason to celebrate against a top-25 opponent. Wins against these types of teams didn’t come often for a mid-to-minor league ACC program. However, the first year of the Perkins era, which resulted in an 8-5 record, was mostly successful thanks to the win over Miami and a Belk Bowl shutdown of SEC opponent South Carolina.
Virginia vs. No. 15 North Carolina, October 31, 2020
Literally the quintessential Halloween game, the offensive collision between the Tar Heels and the Cavaliers led to a high-scoring affair at Scott Stadium. North Carolina — then ranked 15th and with five future NFL draft picks on offense — had only lost en route to Florida State prior to his visit to Charlottesville. Nonetheless, Virginia rode his fast attack — a rare opportunity in senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s tenure — to 210 yards, passing the equally successful tar-heel offense. This would not be a defensive game. Virginia handed star quarterback Sam Howell for 443 yards and four passing touchdowns, but four of Armstrong’s own passing touchdowns gave the Cavaliers a slight advantage.
Despite the severe impact of COVID-19 on attendance during the 2020 season — only 1,000 fans were admitted to the competition — there remained a palpable buzz about Virginia’s victory in the South’s oldest rivalry. Virginia triumphed over a serious Heisman contender in Howell while grounding future NFL running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams for a combined 118 yards. More importantly, Virginia carried a meager 1-4 record into her contest against the Tar Heels. The Cavaliers then put together a streak of four straight wins until it got painful Loss at Virginia Tech, one that dampened an impressive change of season.