Much at stake for 'Hoos on Friday

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The facial hair has been growing for a few weeks now. On Monday, Bronco Mendenhall explained that, to his wife's chagrin, he's been growing out a 'playoff beard' for Virginia's final push in the Coastal Division.

"The beard stays as long as we're winning," UVA's head coach told reporters.

A few times on Monday, Mendenhall called Friday afternoon's game at Scott Stadium against Virginia Tech the 'Coastal Championship.' Both teams will take the field with matching 8-3 overall records, including 5-2 marks against ACC opponents.

It'll be the third time the two teams have met at Scott Stadium with a spot in the ACC title game at stake. The Hokies won those previous two games, in 2007 and 2011. Riding a three-game winning streak -- and a string of nine straight quarters without allowing a point -- Tech is an early 2 1/2-point favorite heading into Friday.

Since arriving at Virginia following the 2015 season, Mendenhall has not backed away from the importance of beating Virginia Tech, and ending a UVA losing streak in the series that began in 2004. But despite the "Beat Tech" emphasis in his program, Mendenhall tried on Monday to debunk the conception that things change for his team heading into a big rivalry game.

"We're really going to practice hard now, and we're really going to try hard to win the game. And coaches are really going to work long hours," Mendenhall said with a dash of sarcasm. "We try every week to do that. And so do the players. The rivalry games just make the impact and the outcome of the game so much more tangible and vibrant for the supporters, because we're in the same state, right?"

Mendenhall's team entered the 2019 with two initial goals -- to beat Tech and win the Coastal Division. Picked over the summer to win the division, the Wahoos have won eight games in the regular season for the first time since 2011, and the program's first five-win performance in the ACC since that same season.

With that performance, the Cavaliers have put themselves in a position where a win on Friday would accomplish both goals.

"The players have just done everything I've asked them to do to this point," Mendenhall said. "That doesn't mean we're perfect. It doesn't mean there's not more to do. It doesn't mean we've reached the pinnacle. It just means progress."

"Whenever you have set goals, and you have the opportunity to achieve them, it means a lot," UVA inside linebacker Jordan Mack said on Monday. "Just to earn – week by week, game by game – earn our goals."

"It means everything," safety De'Vante Cross said following Saturday's 55-27 win against Liberty. "When you set a goal, that's what you work for. Like, that's what we set out to accomplish to do, way back in August. So now it's upon us."

Mendenhall has built his UVA program with a mantra of 'Earned, not given.' On Monday, he agreed that having to end the Cavaliers' 15-game losing streak in the rivalry would be an appropriate way for this year's team to earn Virginia's first-ever Coastal Division title.

"Acknowledge it, just brutal fact-wise, then say it's '19 versus '19. Meaning that Virginia Tech's 2019 team is playing the University of Virginia's '19 team," he said. "Anything else than that is completely interference and not relevant to me. It's this year, this team, this week."

"Ending the streak means we're going to represent the Coastal in the ACC championship. So that's our biggest emphasis this week," said UVA senior receiver Joe Reed. "Taking care of business on Friday, so we can play Clemson in the ACC championship."



 
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