CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nearly nine months have passed since the end of college football’s regular season and little has changed for coach Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers.
They’re still fixated on archrival Virginia Tech and the Hokies’ 15-game winning streak in the series.
Four of the last seven games in the series have been decided by four points or fewer, including the Hokies’ 34-31 overtime victory last November in Blacksburg.
Virginia had driven deep into Tech territory before a botched UVA exchange between quarterback Bryce Perkins and running back Jordan Ellis was recovered by the Hokies at their own 15-yard line.
“After losing the way we lost, it still stings,” Perkins said Thursday at the ACC Kickoff event. “Even last year, it took me a while to get over it at school.
“And, I’m still not completely over it. When we talk about it, I still get a pit in my stomach. As a player and competitor — and it may not always be like this — but, when that happened, I looked at myself like, ‘I lost the game.’
“Just replaying all the things that could have happened, it made me sick. It turned into the five stages of grief. I was in denial, I was angry, I was sad.”
Fortunately, the Cavaliers had a bowl game remaining and Perkins countered by throwing for 208 yards and three touchdowns as UVA upset South Carolina 28-0.
As he spoke Thursday, Perkins was only blocks away from Bank of America Stadium, the site of UVA’s first victory to end a season since 2005.
“It was anger that kind of made me want to get back out there,” Perkins said. “Whatever happens, we told ourselves, leave everything else behind and focus on that [bowl] game. We all did that.
“Transitioning to this year, we’ve got to keep that same anger, apply that to every game and not wait for a loss.”
Perkins said he remembers everything about the Virginia Tech game, his first as a part of the rivalry.
“We were in pistol,” he said. “I didn’t jump back far enough to pull it and I kind of stayed on the running back’s track. When I jumped back and tried to pull it, I was too close to the running back and so I hit him.
“The ball came out, I tried to reach for it and then I got hit. So, they got it. That’s how she roll.”
Apparently, the Cavaliers can’t put enough emphasis on their rivalry with the Hokies, fellow members of the Coastal Division.
Mendenhall reminded reporters that then-Cavaliers wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus had spoken at the 2018 ACC Football Kickoff about a need to beat the Hokies.
“The brutal fact is, that game has to be won by Virginia and it has to be won sooner rather than later,” Mendenhall said Thursday.
“For our program to be healthy and to reach its potential, not only on the Coastal Division side but just for the future of the program, we have to continue to make the improvements necessary to win that game.
“Really, the emphasis remains the same.”
UVA did not make its players available to the media in the days leading up to last year’s Tech-UVA game and Mendenhall said that would not change.
“I think that we’ve closed the gap [or] put it this way, ‘We’re closing the gap,’ “ he said. “I can’t say ‘closed’ because that would mean we’ve won the game. I would say, in my three years as the coach at Virginia, I think we’re getting closer each year.
“Improvements in relation to winning that game are kind of the improvements that have been shown in the program at large from Year 2 to Year 3, but there’s still plenty of room to grow.”