|Texas Tech kicker Alex Trlica gets the celebration started - with help from holder Danny Amendola - after his winning kick. (Mark Wallheiser/Reuters)|
Raiders prevail by arm, leg
Harrell throws for 407 yards; Trlica boots winning FG
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Texas Tech didn't score 40 or more points, as it had all season. Through three quarters, the nation's top passing offense couldn't score much at all.
But Graham Harrell stayed with it, finishing 44 of 69 for 407 yards and three touchdowns, and the Red Raiders scored just enough to overcome a 14-point deficit and stun No. 21 Virginia, 31-28, on a late field goal in the Gator Bowl yesterday.
Alex Trlica hit from 41 yards, despite swirling wind, with seven seconds remaining. It was the third game-winner of the senior kicker's career, and came at an appropriate time: Earlier in the game, Trlica became the first kicker in school history to score 100 points in a season.
"I think it gets easier with every time," Trlica said of winning field goals. "Compared to the first time I had to do it and this time, I was a lot more calm. I knew they were going to call timeout."
Virginia coach Al Groh did, but it didn't faze Trlica.
Tech overcame several mental errors, including pivotal penalties and a fumble, to come back from a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit. Its aggressive pass offense couldn't score much for three quarters, but Harrell still managed to rack up Gator Bowl records for yards, completions, and attempts.
In the final period, the Red Raiders finally found the end zone as they were accustomed to all year. Twice, actually, and Trlica's field goal did the rest.
"I was thinking, 'Hey, if we can just get into field goal range we're probably going to win this," Harrell said. "But I wanted to go throw it myself. When we kick, I just hate kicking. You're no longer in control."
Just a few minutes earlier, the Cavaliers seemed to be in control. A Tech drive kept alive by two fourth-down conversions sputtered with eight minutes left, and All-American Michael Crabtree couldn't haul in a prayer in the end zone on fourth and 1 with 3:16 remaining.
But a few minutes after that, Harrell found him in the same spot against the same defender, and this time it worked - despite a pass interference call.
Then, Virginia gave Tech a gift. The ball was knocked out of backup Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich's hands at the 4-yard line, Tech recovered and Aaron Crawford's run a play later tied it at 28.
"Those guys are hard to hold down, and we held them down for a long time," said Groh. "There were two possessions where we should have had the ball that we didn't - the onside kick to start the second half and fumble at the end of the game."
The Red Raiders overcame a tremendous effort by Virginia tailback Mikell Simpson, who ran for 170 yards on 20 carries - including a NCAA bowl-record 96-yard TD run - and caught another touchdown. Pretty impressive, considering he was playing receiver for the Cavaliers until backfield injuries pressed him into service in October.
Virginia's offense wasn't the same after losing Jameel Sewell at the start of the fourth quarter. His statistics weren't outstanding - 14-of-23 passing for 78 yards and a TD - but he commanded the offense well. Not known for running, the second-year quarterback had nine carries for 32 yards, and his mobility was key to Virginia's first score.
Sewell kept that drive going with two rushes for first downs, one of them on third and 8, before a 2-yard TD pass for Virginia's first score.
He was tackled near the line of scrimmage at the start of the fourth quarter and came up favoring his left leg. Sewell had to be helped off the field and didn't return until Virginia's last possession, when Tech came back and tied things up.
By then it was too late - the Cavaliers couldn't move the ball or stop Harrell, a different story from early in the game.