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Cavaliers come up short in 29-24 loss to Hokies in Commonwealth Clash

By Scott Ratcliffe

With the Commonwealth Cup on the line and the clock ticking away, Virginia needed a touchdown to take down arch-rival Virginia Tech and clinch a winning season.

On a crucial third-and-8 from the Hokies’ 9-yard line with under 40 seconds to play, a banged-up Brennan Armstrong completed a backward pass across the field to senior offensive tackle Bobby Haskins, losing 5 yards on the play, setting up a do-or-die, fourth-and-13 conversion.

Armstrong had come up huge in clutch moments all season long, but playing on an injured ankle and still battling a rib issue, his final pass attempt into the end zone fell to the ground, as the Hokies began to celebrate a 29-24 win, their 17th of the last 18 meetings in the series (60-38-5 all time).

Armstrong, who eclipsed the 400-yard passing mark for a fourth-straight game and sixth time this year, led another eye-popping offensive performance, finishing with 405 passing yards and 3 touchdowns — one through the air, two on the ground — but it wasn’t enough, as the Cavaliers dropped their fourth straight contest to close the regular season, falling to 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the ACC.

Brendan Farrell kicked a 34-yard field goal on UVA’s opening possession of the second half, giving the Hoos a 24-17 lead, and that turned out to be the last time the home fans got a chance to sing The Good Old Song.

Tech’s Raheem Blackshear raced for 50 yards inside the Virginia 20 on the ensuing drive, setting up a reverse-pass touchdown pass to Braxton Burmeister to knot the game up at 24-24 with 10:19 left in the third quarter.

On Virginia’s next march, Armstrong went over the 300-yard mark for the 10th time in his 11 games played this season, connecting with Billy Kemp IV for 17 yards to get the Hoos back across the 50-yard line.

Armstrong was then sacked for a loss of 7 yards and was seen clutching his left ankle in discomfort on the sideline after the play, but returned for the next snap. His third-down completion wasn’t enough for a first down, however, and the Cavaliers had to punt.

Senior linebacker Elliott Brown sacked Burmeister to stop Tech’s next possession and Jay Woolfolk entered the game at quarterback when Virginia got the ball back, as Armstrong briefly went under the blue UVA Orthopedics tent.

Woolfolk hustled for 13 yards and a first down into Hokie territory before Armstrong returned to a loud, well-deserved ovation with just over two minutes left in the third.

Keytaon Thompson caught an Armstrong pass and carried would-be tacklers with him down inside the Tech 20, but coughed up the football at the end of the play and the Hokies (6-6, 4-4) recovered, setting up an intense finish going into the fourth quarter.

The Virginia defense held the Hokies on third-and-short from the Cavalier 20, but John Parker Romo’s 38-yard field goal gave Tech its first lead of the game, 27-24, with 9:31 remaining.

UVA went three-and-out, gaining just three yards as Armstrong sailed a ball incomplete on third down that was nearly picked off, and the Hoos had to punt.

Tech benefited from a Josh Ahern targeting penalty on the ensuing drive, moving the ball inside Virginia’s 40-yard line as the clock approached five minutes to go.

On third-and-10 from the UVA 39, the Cavaliers forced an incompletion and a punt, and the offense took over, down by three, from the 8-yard line with 4:18 to play.

On fourth-and-2 from his own 16, a banged-up Armstrong scrambled and tried to make something happen like he has all season in similar situations.

This time, Armstrong lost control of the ball, which rolled into the end zone for a safety, giving Tech a five-point lead with 3:17 to play.

After kicking away, UVA senior cornerback Nick Grant knocked the ball loose and forced a Connor Blumrick fumble, as Olasunkonmi Agunloye pounced on it and the Hoos had one last crack at it.

Kemp made a clutch reception into Tech territory before a Tech pass-interference call moved the ball 15 yards further, then Thompson picked up 18 more yards down to the Tech 11-yard line as the clock went under two minutes, setting up the nail-biting conclusion.

Virginia racked up 474 yards (414 passing, 60 rushing) on the night, out-gaining the Hokies by 10. Tech rushed for 320 yards, picking up 144 through the air with a depleted receiving corps.

Blackshear led the Hokies with 169 yards rushing, while Burmeister rushed for 115 and threw for 141 more.

Armstrong completed 30 of his 46 passes, and netted 12 yards rushing. Wayne Taulapapa posted a team-high 23 yards on the ground in his final game at Scott Stadium, leaving him eight yards shy of becoming the 41st Cavalier all time to rush for 1,200 career yards.

Kemp led all receivers with 102 yards on eight catches, while Thompson amassed 91 yards on seven grabs, but only picked up three yards rushing (on one attempt). Thompson needs just 10 more yards to join Dontayvion Wicks as a 1,000-yard receiver on the season, a feat no two Hoos have accomplished in the same year.

Luckily for the already-bowl-eligible Cavaliers, they’ll still have one more game to reach those milestones and shoot for a winning record.

FIRST HALF

The Hokies got the ball first and were on the move until Grant came up with a big stop on third down to force a punt. Armstrong went right to work, hitting Wicks for 27 yards into Tech territory, but Haskins was flagged for a personal foul to bring it back around midfield.

Armstrong broke Bryce Perkins’ single-season school record for total offense (4,307 yards set in 2019) on the play.

On third-and-goal from the 11, Armstrong zipped one over to Jelani Woods in the flat, and the big tight end bobbled it but reeled it in and dove into the end zone for six with 6:20 to go in the first quarter. Woods needs just one more TD grab to tie Heath Miller’s single-season record of nine (achieved in 2002) by a UVA tight end.

Armstrong was 7 for 8 for 88 yards on the drive, which took 4:10 off the clock and put the Hokies in an early hole.

Tech answered back a few plays later, as Burmeister hit Tayvion Robinson for a 61-yard score to tie it up with 5:12 on the clock.

On UVA’s next possession, Mike Hollins ran for 9 yards on third-and-1 to keep the chains moving, then on the next play, Wicks broke Herman Moore’s single-season receiving yards record — which stood for 31 years — with a 19-yard catch, down to the VT 16-yard line.

Armstrong ran it in himself a few plays later from a yard out to cap the 11-play, 75-yard drive, putting the Hoos back in front, 14-7, with 54 ticks left in the first.

That touchdown gave UVA 405 points on the season, marking just the fifth time in school history a Cavalier offense has scored 400 or more (1894, 1990, 2002, 2019).

Burmeister rushed 71 yards on the final play of the period, as Darius Bratton was able to chase him down at the 3-yard line to prevent the touchdown.

It turned out to be a very important stop, as the Wahoo defense provided a goal-line stand, stuffing the Hokies on the following four plays as backup quarterback Connor Blumrick’s fourth-down pass attempt fell incomplete in the end zone.

Throwing from the same end zone on third down on the ensuing drive, Armstrong connected with Kemp, who made an excellent twisting grab along the sideline for the first down.

A few plays later, Taulapapa made a nice catch and picked up 17 yards into Hokie territory, but Armstrong was intercepted by Tae Daley over the middle on the next play, midway through the second quarter, and Blackshear went on to tie the game at 14-apiece on an 18-yard scamper with 6:05 left in the half.

Thompson converted a big third down on the ensuing drive, setting up the Cavaliers for the go-ahead score going into the break, as Kemp caught a screen pass and hustled along the home sideline down to the Hokies’ 5-yard line. On the next snap, Armstrong pump-faked, took off for the end zone and bounced off of Tech DB Nasir Peoples and in for a touchdown, 21-14, as he was mobbed by his teammates for a quick celebration with 3:32 to go until halftime.

First-year linebacker West Weeks registered a sack to force a fourth-and-22 on Tech’s next drive to force a punt, but Weeks was then called for roughing the punter to keep the Hokie drive alive.

Robinson hauled one in, down to the UVA 30, as the clock went inside a minute, but Nick Jackson and Mandy Alonso’s sack of Burmeister on third down forced a Romo 32-yard field goal as time expired, and UVA led 21-17 at the half.

Armstrong, who completed 19 of his 25 attempts before halftime, was responsible for 269 of Virginia’s 302 total yards in the first half — 236 passing, 33 rushing.

Box Score

UP NEXT

Virginia will await word on its bowl-game details next Sunday, Dec. 5, as all FBS postseason matchups will be revealed on ESPN, beginning at Noon ET.

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • Virginia eclipsed the 400-point mark for the season, only the fourth time in school history UVA has scored 400 points in a season. The 420 total points this season are the third-most in program history.
  • The Cavaliers drop to 4-3 at home this season.
  • The Virginia defense matched a season-high with four sacks in the contest.
  • Saturday was the final game for Kim Kirschnick who served the Virginia football program as the mounted Cavalier on horseback for the past 21 seasons. He led the Cavalier football team on the field for the past 21 seasons, more than 140 games and a number of bowl games.  

Player Notes

  • Wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks set the Virginia single-season receiving yardage record on a 19-yard reception on UVA’s second scoring drive in the first quarter. He surpassed Herman Moore’s mark of 1,190 yards set back in 1990.
  • Wicks finished with three catches for 55 yards on eight targets. He now has 1,203 yards on the season. 
  • Brennan Armstrong broke UVA’s single-season total offense record with a 27-yard pass to Wicks on UVA’s second play of the game. The record was previously held by Bryce Perkins – 4,307 in 2019. Armstrong now has 4,705 on the season which is fifth-most in ACC history.
  • Armstrong rushed for his eighth and ninth touchdowns of the season. The nine rushing touchdowns are the sixth most by a UVA quarterback in school history. He now has 14 for his career, the sixth most ever by a UVA quarterback. 
  • Armstrong threw for 400 yards for the sixth time this season and went over the 300-yard mark for the 11th time in his career, both school records. That is the most passing yards by a UVA QB vs. Virginia Tech.
  • Armstrong has 4,449 yards passing this season, the fourth-highest single-season total in ACC history.
  • Jelani Woods caught a career-high seven passes and racked up 64 yards receiving. His touchdown on the opening drive of the game was his eighth of the season, the second most by a tight end in UVA history and one shy of Heath Miller’s school record of nine in 2002.
  • Woods has 598 yards receiving on the season, the third-most ever by a UVA tight end. 
  • West Weeks recorded his first sack of the season, a 14-yard loss that forced a VT fourth down late in the second quarter.
  • Nick Jackson had 10 tackles, the third-straight double-digit tackle effort by the linebacker. He has seven 10+ tackle games this season and a total of 117 tackles on the year.
  • Elliott Brown had a career-high two sacks to go along with four tackles. 
  • Billy Kemp led the Cavaliers with eight catches and 102 yards receiving. The 100-yard game was his second of the season and third of his career.

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