CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -One of the biggest obstacles Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell has had to overcome is his tendency to berate himself for lousy plays.
It might do him some good to go into every series imagining that Virginia trails, is running out of chances and counting on the redshirt sophomore to lead them back. He's done that five times now, helping the No. 23 Cavaliers (8-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) set an NCAA record for victories by a margin of two points or fewer.
The latest came Saturday, when Sewell directed a 56-yard drive capped by Mikell Simpson's 1-yard touchdown run with 2:18 left in a 17-16 victory against Wake Forest.
``We could have made today easier, but I made too many mistakes that set us back,'' Sewell said, describing his mistake as ``just bad throws. A whole lot of bad throws.''
But given a chance to redeem himself, Sewell came through on the go-ahead drive with runs of 10 and 11 yards, and a key fourth-down completion to Maurice Covington.
``He plays hard the whole games, but in those last couple minutes, he brings it,'' Covington said. ``He brings the intensity and he keep everybody in the game.''
The Cavaliers have won eight of nine, and their only loss came when Sewell could only watch during what's become his winning time. Last week, Virginia fell 29-24 at N.C. State with Sewell missing the second half of the fourth quarter with cramps.
Otherwise, he's been Mr. Clutch.
``He's an emotional player and he's a prideful player,'' Cavaliers coach Al Groh said. ``One of the things that was challenging for him to deal with in the past was when things didn't go well, his emotions would get in the way. Everybody has toughened up around here mentally, and I think he's done the same. That enabled him to overcome some plays that weren't too pretty and to be there for his team when it really mattered.''
Groh likes to say that a quarterback is judged by his pelts, and Sewell's collection is impressive, especially considering the circumstances they come in.
Against Georgia Tech, after a series with two short completions and a near interception, Sewell cashed in on a turnover on the next play, firing a 26-yard TD dart to Staton Jobe in 1-on-1 coverage as Virginia went ahead with 8:56 to play.
Against Middle Tennessee, after his interception led to the Blue Raiders taking a 21-20 lead and primed the home crowd for a huge upset, Sewell led a 63-yard march in the final 1:26 to Chris Gould's winning 34-yard field goal.
Against Connecticut, Sewell overcame two interceptions and a mediocre day by leading a 79-yard march to Gould's winning 19-yard field goal with 3:20 remaining.
Against Maryland, it was a 15-play, 90-yard drive to Simpson's 1-yard dive with 16 seconds to go, giving the Cavaliers their second one-point victory in a row.
And on Saturday, the same play produced the winning margin again, leaving Virginia in a spot few thought they would see - able to clinch a berth in the conference championship game by winning its last two games against Miami and Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers even have their lone bye of the season between the games.
In a sign of his emerging leadership abilities, Sewell was not only quick to take the blame for the struggles Virginia had, but to heap credit on the rest of the team.
The defense, for example, almost didn't do enough, allowing Wake Forest to drive to the Cavaliers 30 in the closing seconds. But Sam Swank, one of the nation's top kickers, missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired, and all was forgiven.
``The defense doesn't care who they are playing,'' Sewell said. ``Even if they were facing the New England Patriots, they would be ready. They never crack.''
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, neither does the quarterback.
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