Brandon Pendergrass rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown, Kevin Patterson returned an interception for another score and Wake Forest surged to the top of the jumbled Atlantic Coast Conference standings with a 28-17 win over Virginia on Saturday.
Behind a dominant defense that forced four turnovers and stymied the league's most accurate passer, the Demon Deacons ended years of futility against the Cavaliers, moved atop the Atlantic Division and became bowl eligible for the third straight year.
Riley Skinner threw touchdown passes to Ben Wooster and Devon Brown for Wake Forest (6-3, 4-2), which had lost 20 of 21 games to Virginia, including 10 straight at home.
But in holding on after building a 28-3 halftime lead, Wake Forest positioned itself to reach the ACC title game for the second time in three years. Wake Forest needs wins over North Carolina State and Boston College and one loss by Maryland to reach another goal and continue the best stretch in school history.
Virginia (5-5, 3-3) could have moved into sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division with a win, but didn't reach the end zone until the fourth quarter and lost its second straight game.
Marc Verica, who came in with a 67 percent completion rate, got off to a rough start, completing only 3 of his first 14 passes. His second first-half interception was returned 53 yards by Patterson to make it 28-3 late in the second quarter.
Verica recovered a bit in the second half, throwing TD passes to John Phillips and Kevin Ogletree in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 28-17. But Verica was picked off by Stanley Arnoux with just over 2 minutes left to end Virginia's chances.
Verica finished 23-for-45 for 279 yards, while Cedric Peerman was held to 43 yards rushing and lost a fumble as Virginia fell in Winston-Salem for the first time since 1983, when Cavaliers coach Al Groh was leading the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest, wearing gold jerseys for the first time since the school moved to Winston-Salem 52 years ago, didn't take long to excite the homecoming crowd.
Skinner, who went a fifth straight game without an interception, tossed a 2-yard TD pass to Wooster on Wake's opening drive.
Then linebacker Aaron Curry started a string of big defensive plays by stripping Peerman and recovering the fumble. Curry later made a crushing hit on Verica, whose pass popped into the air and was intercepted by defensive tackle Boo Robinson.
That led to Skinner's 58-yard TD pass to Brown, who got behind Virginia defensive backs Byron Glaspy and Ras-I Dowling for a 14-0 lead.
Pendergrass, replacing Josh Adams (ankle) in the backfield for the second straight week, gave Wake Forest's struggling ground game a boost. His 1-yard TD run capped a nearly 9-minute drive midway through the second quarter for a 21-3 lead.
Wake Forest's defense, which had a rare bad day a week ago in a 33-30 overtime win over Duke, allowed only 82 yards in the first half. Virginia didn't convert a third down until early in the fourth quarter, and Wake Forest survived Virginia's late offensive burst to reach at least six wins in three straight seasons for the first time since 1946-48.