CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Win two to play three.
That's been Virginia's mantra for the past two weeks, when a four-game losing streak heading into a bye week left them in the position of having to win their last two regular season games to qualify for a bowl game. They are now halfway there.
Canaan Severin made a spectacular touchdown catch and Virginia dominated after halftime to beat Miami 30-13 on Saturday night, resurrecting the spirit in a locker room that hadn't tasted victory since beating Pittsburgh on Oct. 4.
"When you lose four in a row, you need something to pick you back up," Severin said. "We lost four in a row. It would be easy to say, 'Let's play these last two and be done,' but that's not what this team is about."
Darius Jennings and Khalek Shepherd ran for touchdowns and Ian Frye kicked three field goals for the Cavaliers (5-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who set themselves up for a win-or-go-home game against rival Virginia Tech next Friday night.
"That's like the game of the year for us," linebacker Max Valles said.
The Cavaliers will need to snap a 10-game losing streak in the series with the Hokies to make their first bowl since 2011, while the Hokies, 6-3 double-overtime losers at Wake Forest on Saturday, also need to win to reach the postseason. They will have plenty of incentive, too, in working to protect and preserve a 21-year streak of ending seasons in bowl games.
The loss was the second in a row for the Hurricanes (6-5, 3-4), who looked like they had a hard time putting the first one behind them. They led No. 1 Florida State until the final minutes last week and struggled against Virginia's stout defense.
"At the end of the day, we got beat in all three phases," Hurricanes coach Al Golden said. "It has nothing to do with last week. Last week didn't have any bearing on what we did tonight. They performed better than we did."
Duke Johnson saw his six-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing end after gaining 88 yards in 15 carries. And quarterback Brad Kaaya was 20 for 33 for 263 yards, but was sacked four times and hit or hurried several others.
"They've had an excellent defense all year," Golden said. "They stopped our run and they hit Brad way too many times."
Miami also had a somber moment late in the third quarter when wide receiver Herb Waters went down on a kickoff return and didn't get up. He was eventually carted off the field, but was moving his extremities. Waters' injuries were not specified after the game, but he was taken to the hospital, then cleared in time to travel back to Miami with the team.
The Cavaliers started Senior Night by introducing 34 fourth- and fifth-year players, and with designs on improving embattled coach Mike London's chances of returning next season. London took Virginia to an 8-5 record and the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011, but they had won only 10 of 34 games the last three years.
Virginia took control late in the third quarter with a 10-play drive. It originally stalled at the 2, but Miami was called for running into the kicker on a field goal try, giving Virginia a first down. Three plays later, Jennings took a jet sweep going right and overran cornerback Artie Burns to score.
Waters was hurt on the ensuing kickoff, and Miami floundered after the lengthy delay. It lost 13 yards on the next three plays, the last a sack of Kaaya by Max Valles that was very nearly a safety.
Shepherd's 17-yard punt return set the Cavaliers up at the 24, and Frye's 22-yard field goal seven plays later made it 23-7. The Cavaliers sealed it when Quin Blanding intercepted Kaaya and Shepherd scored from the 4 to make it 30-7.
Virginia led 13-7 at halftime and could have led by much more.
Trailing 7-0, they had a 13-play drive that included a 3-yard run by Shepherd on fourth-and-2 from the 8. Three plays netted just 2 yards, however, and Ian Frye kicked a 20-yard field goal.
After the Hurricanes punted, Virginia drove 75 yards with Lambert hitting Severin for a diving, one-handed touchdown catch from 23 yards out. On the play, Severin extended his right hand and pulled the ball in while diving into the end zone.
That made it 10-7 with 3:21 left, and the Cavaliers had another great scoring chance before halftime.
It came when Daquan Romero blocked a 44-yard field goal try by Michael Badgley and Maurice Canady scooped it and returned it 65 yards to the 3. There were 29 seconds left, but after Shepherd gained 2 on first down, the clock kept running, even as the crowd and London screamed for a timeout, and didn't stop until just 12 seconds remained in the half. Shepherd was stopped for no gain, Lambert threw incomplete for Severin and Frye finally kicked a 17-yard field goal.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr