October 4, 2008
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Marc Verica turned his first home game as Virginia's starting quarterback into his coming out party, too, with a performance that surprised even his team.
Verica threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in just his third collegiate start as Virginia finally clicked on offense and pounded Maryland, 31-0 on Saturday night.
"Marc stepped up tonight," tailback Mikell Simpson said after the sophomore completed 25 of 34 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. "We were kind of shocked the way that he played tonight when you looked at his attempts and yards. Everything was just off the charts."
Verica had drawn praise after his first start even though the team lost 45-10 at Connecticut, then threw four interceptions last week as the Cavaliers helped Duke end its 25-game ACC losing streak. He played like he was energized to finally get to play at home.
"My job was easy," he said after Virginia nearly matched its point total from the first four games (36), including a 16-0 victory against FCS member Richmond. "I just had to get it to the playmakers. It was good to see everything click and, hopefully, we can build on this."
The Cavaliers (2-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), outscored 128-20 in three previous games against Bowl Subdivision teams, also found their running game behind an improved line.
Cedric Peerman ran for 110 yards, including a 9-yard third quarter touchdown, on just 17 carries, and Simpson added 77 on 14 attempts. In all, Virginia ran for 201 yards.
The return of the hard-running Peerman was big, coach Al Groh said, not only for his production on the field, but what his style brings to the team.
"To have Cedric back for essentially for all intents and purposes for the first time this season, as everybody could see, made a great difference," Groh said. "He's got a rare heart for competition and he's got a rare heart for this team."
Peerman's TD, on a fourth-and-1 play, put Maryland (4-2, 1-1) in a 31-0 hole, and made certain that the Cavaliers wouldn't blow it this time. Two years ago, Virginia led the Terrapins 20-0 at halftime, then gave up 28 consecutive points and lost 28-26 at home.
But this game looked nothing like that one, or like any of the others Virginia had played so far this season on the way to cranking up speculation that Groh's job was in jeopardy.
Maryland, too, looked nothing like the team that arrived having won three in a row, knocking California and then Clemson from the rankings after a loss at Middle Tennessee State.
"I knew how Virginia would react," Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Very similar to how we reacted after Middle Tennessee. It's an emotional game. We've got to be ready to play."
Sparked first by its defense, and then by Verica, the Cavaliers dominated, turning a rivalry that usually produces last-minute heroics and heartache into a laugher instead.
He hit Kevin Ogletree deep down the middle for a 51-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, the Cavaliers' first scoring pass of the season, and outran linebacker Alex Wujciak for 5 yards to the right pylon early in the second quarter, giving Virginia a 14-0 lead.
After getting the ball at the Cavaliers 12 with just over four minutes to play in the half, Verica completed all eight passes and directed a 12-play, 88-yard march. The touchdown came when he hit Ogletree from 15 yards out just 11 seconds before halftime.
Verica was 17-for-20 in the half for 178 yards.
Maryland tried to jump-start its offense in the second half, but Obi Egekeze's attempt at an onside kick to start the half went only four yards and was downed at the Terps' 49.
That led to a 32-yard field goal by Yannick Reyering, and Terps tight end Dan Gronkowski was stripped by Vic Hall three plays later and Corey Mosley recovered for the Cavaliers.
Eleven plays and 61 yards later, Peerman went around the left side on the fourth-down play from the 9, found room on the sidelines and dove into the end zone to complete the scoring.