In the team hotel on the night before his final road game, Clemson running back James Davis decided to make sure his team knew where he stood.
"I said, `Hey, I'm a senior and this is my last road game. I need this one,"' Davis said he told his teammates. "'I want to go to a bowl game. I want something to be proud of."'
The Tigers delivered for Davis and 27 other seniors on Saturday, turning three Virginia turnovers into points and playing stout defense in a 13-3 victory that kept alive Clemson's chance of winning its last two regular season games to qualify for a bowl game.
The Tigers (6-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) turned two interceptions and a fumble recovery into points, getting enough to win on C.J. Spiller's halfback option touchdown pass in the first quarter. A late interception sealed it as Clemson allowed just 190 yards.
With two victories against Football Championship Subdivision teams, the Tigers also will need to defeat South Carolina at Death Valley next week to reach the postseason, and the sense of urgency Davis was hoping for fueled their efforts all day.
"That was the only thing we talked about," said defensive back Michael Hamlin, whose interception gave the Tigers the ball at the Cavaliers' 20 before Spiller's big pass. "Our mindset coming into the game was play it like a playoff game. If we would have lost, we were going home, so our main thing was to just go out there and do everything it takes to win."
The 15-yard scoring pass was the first of Spiller's career.
"I actually thought I overthew him," he said of Tyler Grisham, who ran what Virginia coach Al Groh said was a common fake and found himself with no defenders anywhere near him.
When Mark Buchholz later added field goals of 32 and 23 yards, the Tigers had more than enough to win. The last was set up by Clemson's third interception of the game.
"This is one that doesn't take a big, thick microscope to dissect," Groh said. "It was pretty obvious."
The Cavaliers (5-6, 3-4) lost their third in a row after a four-game winning streak that put them in the race for the ACC's Coastal Division title. Virginia now needs to win next weekend at Virginia Tech to qualify for a bowl, and Groh's teams are 1-6 against the Hokies.
The loss rendered meaningless a strong effort by Virginia's defense, which limited Clemson to 192 total yards and held the vaunted tandem of Spiller and Davis to 83 rushing yards.
"This is a team game, and we didn't win," linebacker Clint Sintim said. "We held them to 200 yards. That's great. It looks good on paper and all those numbers and things like that, but all that really matters at the end of the day is whether you win or lose, and we lost the game. Whether they had 200 or they had 600, it doesn't matter. They won and we lost and that's all it comes down to."
The Tigers led 10-3 at halftime, added a field goal with 2:37 left and a third interception with 1:58 remaining, sending frigid Cavaliers fans streaming to the exits. The temperature at game time, 35 degrees, was the coldest at Virginia in 42 years.
After Spiller's touchdown, the Tigers quickly got back on the offensive.
Verica hit Rashawn Jackson with a short pass and Byron Maxwell hammered him as he turned upfield. The ball popped free and Jock McKissic recovered for the Tigers near midfield.
Eight plays later, Mark Buchholz kicked a 32-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
Virginia had a first-and-goal at the 9 on its next possession after driving 60 yards. But it lost 8 yards on its next three plays, and Robert Randolph kicked a 34-yard field goal.
The game appeared to turn late in the third quarter when Clemson botched the snap on a third-and-4 from Virginia's 23 and Vic Hall recovered for the Cavaliers at their 47.
On the next play, Verica hit Kevin Ogletree down the sideline with Sadat Chambers in one-on-one coverage for an apparent tying touchdown, but the officials flagged him for offensive pass interference.
Three plays later, Virginia was forced to punt.
The Cavaliers drove to the Tigers' 27 on their next possession and went for it on fourth-and-1, but Maxwell wasn't fooled and tackled Cedric Peerman for a 5-yard loss.
After another three-and-out for the Tigers, Verica tried to hit Jared Green deep downfield, but Crezdon Butler intercepted and returned it 31 yards to Virginia's 36, setting up Buchholz's second field goal of the game that produced the final score.