David Rivers grew up a huge Georgia Tech fan and confesses to rooting for the Yellow Jackets nine years ago when they came to Scott Stadium and ended Virginia's only ride as No. 1 with a 41-38 victory.
On Saturday night, Rivers helped the Cavaliers turn the tables on No. 7 Georgia Tech, playing like a Heisman contender in his first college start while Heisman front-runner Joe Hamilton didn't in Virginia's stunning 45-38 victory.
"It's what you dream of," the junior from Augusta, Ga., said, "just given the chance to come out and play against Georgia Tech. And it's icing on the cake that they were the seventh-ranked team in the country. It's amazing."
"After (the first quarter), I said, `Look, it can't get much worse than this. Let's go out there and start having fun and just play football,"' he said.
It worked, and when the clock finally struck zero and thousands of fans streamed onto the field, the Cavaliers had a victory, Georgia Tech a painful loss and Hamilton was left to ponder what's left of the Yellow Jackets' season.
"We lost a game, a big game, and it dashed a lot of goals, but we've still got three games to play," the senior said, mindful that the Yellow Jackets' prospects for being part of the Bowl Championship Series probably ended, too.
Hamilton's Heisman hopes also likely took a near-fatal punch, even though he became the career total offense leader in the ACC with a 282-yard effort.
After Virginia went ahead to stay at 38-31 with 12:15 left, Hamilton couldn't get his team into the end zone again until Rivers and Co. had made it 45-31.
"I think we found a rhythm offensively running the ball, but passing the ball the rhythm wasn't really there," he sid. "But there's no excuse. No excuse."
Rivers, who lost his job as the Cavaliers' long snapper on punts this week when he was picked to play instead of the injured Dan Ellis, completed 18-of-30 for 228 yards, with one interception. That came early, before he got hot.
"The poise and the way he was moving the ball and moving his team, I thought he was a starter," said Hamilton, who was 18-for-26 for 233 yards with one interception and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 49 yards on 14 tries.
Thomas Jones, whose own Heisman hopes were dashed by the Cavaliers' poor showing this season, rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries.
With the game tied at 31, the Cavaliers opened the fourth quarter by converting on fourth-and-1 from their 45 on Jones' 1-yard run. Rivers then caught a break when Marvious Hester dropped an interception on a deep ball to Billy McMullen, and Rivers and Jones combined to punch in the go-ahead score.
The points came on Rivers' 42-yard pass to McMullen, one play after Jamara Clark foiled a double reverse by tackling Kevin Coffey for a 13-yard loss.
The Yellow Jackets later drove to Virginia's 33, but on fourth-and-3, Hamilton dropped back, tried to run and was sacked for a yard loss by Ljubomir Stamenich.
Jones' runs of 3, 14 and 11 yards drove the ball to the Yellow Jackets 37, and Tyree Foreman took it the rest of way on five consecutive carries.
Hamilton drove Georgia Tech 67 yards in seven plays, the last an 8-yard TD throw to Kerry Watkins with 1:45 left, but Virginia ran out the clock thereafter.
"The last three minutes couldn't tick away fast enough," Rivers said.
Hamilton became the ACC's career total offense leader with 9,478 yards, surpassing the 9,296 Shawn Jones had for the Yellow Jackets from 1989-92. Sean Gregory also had a big day, running 25 times for 119 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cavaliers scored 21 points in the second quarter to make a game of it. Rivers hit Billy Baber from 4 yards for Virginia's first touchdown, capping a 15-play, 79-yard march that featured three third-down conversions, all on passes.
Georgia Tech answered immediately, taking it 71 yards in 10 plays, the last a 4-yard run up the middle by Gregory, but then Virginia's defense stiffened.
Rivers picked up where he left off on the previous drive, hitting the leaping McMullen for 39 yards on the first play of a four-play, 62-yard drive capped by Jones' 10-yard run. That made it 24-14, and after Yubrenal Isabelle intercepted Hamilton's pass 1:05 before halftime, Rivers cashed it in like a veteran might.
After converting on fourth-and-2 from the 32 with a 2-yard pass to Jones, he threw incomplete to Chris Luzar, hit Kevin Coffey for 18 yards and then again for 12 yards with nine seconds left in the half to pull Virginia within 24-21.
"The key might have been getting back into it before the half," Viginia coach George Welsh said. "The game could have gotten away from us, but it didn't."
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed