Wahoos still have plenty to play for in bowl game

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The Virginia football team entered this football season with two primary goals: Beat Virginia Tech and win a bowl game.

On Tuesday morning, UVA players admitted that it took a good week or two to get over the heartbreaking 34-31 overtime loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg that ended the Cavaliers' regular season on Novembver 23.
After two weeks off, less-experienced players returned to the practice field on Monday; veterans have been rehabbing and working out, and will get back to work next week.

And the Wahoos say they've turned their full attention to accomplishing that second goal, by beating South Carolina in Charlotte on December 29 in the Belk Bowl.

"The biggest thing for us this year is just make sure we stay focused that we still have a game ahead of us," junior defensive lineman Eli Hanback said on Tuesday. "The biggest focus for the older guys and the entire team is make sure everyone realizes that, and we can keep our heads screwed on right and know that we have a challenge coming ahead of us."

"I would love nothing more than to see this team push forward and actually win a bowl game. One of the last things I can help this team do," said senior outside linebacker Chris Peace. "I can't remember the last time we won a bowl game here at UVA."

It's been 13 years since UVA's last postseason victory -- a 34-31 win against Minnesota in the 2005 Music City Bowl. The program has only appeared in three bowl games since, including last year's 49-7 loss to Navy in the Military Bowl.

That trip to Annapolis was the first postseason experience for players on the UVA roster. Their performance against the Midshipmen still lingers at the McCue Center.

"Last year I think we were more excited just to get there," Peace said. "Now, I don't know, it's just kind of like, 'All right, we've been here before. Now what are we going to do differently this time."

"I think it just showed us exactly where we were and where we need to improve on moving forward to get to where we want to go. Essentially it humbled us, it exposed us," said junior cornerback Bryce Hall. "And really, I think it helped us."

"That then led to, if you're going to go then you'd better prepare well so you can play well. So those lessons, it might have accelerated us faster to have the outcome like we did," said UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

"This feels a lot more like business as usual," Mendenhall added. "There's more maturity, there's a higher level of expectation. They already have some point of reference as to what postseason looks like."

The Cavaliers followed last year's 6-7 campaign by finishing 7-5 during the regular season, guaranteeing the program its first winning record since 2011. UVA finished that season 8-5 after a loss in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

That's one of just 25 eight-win teams in the 129-year history of the Virginia football program -- and the only one from the past decade. By beating the Gamecocks in the Belk Bowl, this year's team would match that milestone.

"It definitely fuels our fire. We're excited to play these guys, they're a great team. Great quarterback on that side," said UVA junior quarterback Bryce Perkins. "Getting eight wins for this program is going to be huge, so we've got to focus on that."

"I think it's significant. To solidify what we've been affirming here, and it's our expectation to go out there and win," said Hall. "So I think it would be nice in propelling us into the next season."

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