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Cavaliers rally to sting Yellow Jackets, 48-40

By Scott Ratcliffe

uva footballBrennan Armstrong accounted for six touchdowns as the Virginia football team won its fourth-straight contest Saturday. The Cavaliers rallied from an early deficit, exploded offensively and held on to sting ACC Coastal Division foe Georgia Tech, 48-40, in front of a loud, boisterous crowd of 45,837 at Scott Stadium.

Virginia (6-2, 4-2 ACC) has now won 16 of its last 18 home games, and 21 of the last 24, as the Yellow Jackets (3-4, 2-3) have now dropped 13 of their last 15 in Charlottesville. With the win, UVA is now bowl-eligible for the fifth time in six seasons.

Armstrong, who came into the evening as the nation’s leading passer, had another exceptional outing, completing 29 of his 43 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns to go with his team-best 99 rushing yards and two rushing scores.

Dontayvion Wicks led the Wahoos in receiving with 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just six catches.

After clawing back from a 13-0 hole and leading by 8 at halftime, second-year Wahoo kicker Brendan Farrell made it an 11-point game out of the halftime break with 9:41 left in the third quarter on a 26-yard field goal, set up by back-to-back first-down Armstrong completions — one to Keytaon Thompson for 9 yards, the other to tight end Jelani Woods for 19 — that got the Cavaliers back inside the 20-yard line.

Tech freshman running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who led the team with 132 rushing yards, had a quick response, finding a hole in the Virginia defense and hustling 71 yards to paydirt, and the Jackets used some trickeration to convert a 2-point pass to trim the Cavaliers’ lead back to three, 27-24, just 41 seconds later.

Moments later, a Wesley Walker unnecessary-roughness penalty gave the Hoos a first down at the Jackets’ 21-yard line. After the play was reviewed, it was determined that Walker was guilty of helmet-to-helmet targeting against Cavalier receiver Billy Kemp IV, and was disqualified.

UVA fed off of the momentum, as Armstrong took it himself 14 yards to the GT 7-yard line, and then ran it into the end zone a few plays later to stretch Virginia’s lead back to double digits, 34-24, with 5:13 remaining in the third.

Following a Tech punt, Armstrong again had the Cavalier offense moving efficiently. A Kemp catch on third down kept the chains moving before Woods added another 24 yards and another trip inside the Jackets’ 20-yard line.

On the ensuing play, Armstrong took the snap and spun off a would-be tackler into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the half, this time from 14 yards out, giving the Hoos a comfortable 41-24 lead with one second showing on the third-quarter clock, much to the delight of the Wahoo faithful in attendance. 

Tech’s Brent Cimaglia booted home a 35-yard field goal with 8:59 to go, cutting the Virginia lead to 41-31 to make things interesting. But with 3:50 left, Armstrong put what seemed to be the icing on the cake with a 20-yard toss into the corner of the end zone to Ra’Shaun Henry, who made a beautiful, over-the-shoulder grab to push the lead back to 17.

Tech added a late 37-yard touchdown pass with 1:16 remaining, got the ball back on an onside kick and scored again with 22 ticks left, failing to convert the 2-point conversion, but a second onside kick recovery by the Jackets at the 50-yard line with 20 seconds to go had to make the Hoos sweat. Tech had a shot to tie it on the game’s final play, but in the end it wasn’t enough as Blount knocked down a lob near the goal line and the Cavaliers escaped with the victory.

Virginia posted 636 total yards on the night (396 passing, 240 rushing), which cracked the school’s single-game top-10 list for total offense.


Georgia Tech got on the board quickly, as it took just five plays to go 75 yards for the game’s initial score, a 36-yard Jeff Sims toss to Kyric McGowan, with still 13:20 showing on the first-quarter clock.

After a Cavalier punt, an apparent Joey Blount interception in the end zone at the 7:07 mark temporarily electrified the Scott Stadium crowd, but a roughing-the-passer penalty was called on Noah Taylor, who tapped on the passing hand of Sims just as the ball was released, resulting in a first-and-goal situation for the Jackets.

Tech’s Dontae Smith scored on a short run two plays later to put the Hoos in an early 13-0 hole with 6:28 left in the opening quarter, as Taylor blocked the point-after attempt.

Armstrong got it rolling on the Cavaliers’ ensuing drive, marching the Hoos 75 yards in nine plays, capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kemp, cutting the GT lead to 13-7 with 2:53 left in the first quarter.

Mandy Alonso hobbled off the field with an injury on the ensuing GT drive just before the end of the period.

A Kalani Norris dropped pass on third down inside the red zone limited Tech to a 26-yard Cimaglia field goal with 12:54 left in the half to make it 16-7, capping a 13-play possession that took nearly five minutes off the clock.

With all the talk of his passing stats, Armstrong reminded everyone that he can still get it done on the ground as well, racing 45 yards — the longest rush of the season for UVA — on Virginia’s next drive, through the Tech defense and all the way down to the 18-yard line.

Three plays later, Armstrong lofted one up in the end zone to his favorite target, Dontayvion Wicks, who out-leaped a pair of defenders and came down with it for six, and with 9:51 left in the half, the Hoos were right back in it, 16-14.

Blount’s eighth career pick couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cavaliers with a little over seven minutes to go, as he again came down with the ball deep in UVA territory.

The Hoos went ahead a few plays later with their longest offensive play of the season, as Armstrong found Wicks along the home sideline, and he made a move and sprinted 77 yards to the house, making it 21-16 Virginia with 6:36 left until half.

Second-year lineman Jahmeer Carter made a crucial stop, a loss of five yards, on Tech’s next possession that forced a third-and-long scenario for the Jackets, and the UVA defense held to force Tech’s first punt of the night, which didn’t travel far (just 27 yards), giving the Hoos great field position around midfield, and 3:59 to work with.

Wayne Taulapapa’s 14-yard run into GT territory set up a 28-yard Armstrong toss to Wicks down the opposite sideline, and the Hoos had first-and-goal at the Tech 10. Armstrong was looking for a diving Wicks again on third down in the end zone, but the pass fell incomplete and Farrell knocked through a 24-yarder to extend the UVA lead to 24-16 with 1:23 remaining in the half.

The Wahoo defense produced another three-and-out before the break, as Taylor was helped off the field on Tech’s final possession of the half.

Armstrong completed 15 of his 23 passes in the first half for 198 yards and three scores, while also leading the team in rushing with 77 yards on six carries. Wicks hauled in 5 catches for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns, as the Hoos racked up 329 total yards (198 passing, 131 rushing) and were 3 for 3 within the red zone across the first 30 minutes of action.


The Hoos look to make it five in a row overall and three straight on the road next weekend. Virginia travels out west to Provo to face Bronco Mendenhall’s former school, 6-2 Brigham Young, at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN2.


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