Bronco Mendenhall waited 301 days, but No. 100 finally arrived.
The Virginia football team delivered the 100th win of Mendenhall’s career Saturday with a 49-35 victory against Central Michigan. Mendenhall picked up the previous 99 in 11 years at BYU. The last one came with a 51-28 victory against Utah State on Nov. 28, 2015.
A near comeback in the Las Vegas Bowl against Utah, a cross-country move, and nearly nine months passed between wins, but UVA’s new coach savored the moment Saturday. He let out a deep sigh during a TV interview, smiled broadly in the press room, and generally seemed to appreciate that his new team finally got into the win column.
“It was sheer joy,” Mendenhall said. “They were waiting for me to come in like it was a big deal to them to celebrate for me as well and I couldn’t wait to celebrate for them. That’s gratifying when it meant a lot for them to make me feel special and visa versa. It’s one of those things I won’t forget, ever.”
The Virginia players shared their enthusiasm for the moment too. Cavalier quarterback Kurt Benkert reflected on the hard work that came before Saturday’s milestone win. Benkert played a big role in the outcome with a new school record for passing yards. He completed 27 passes for 421 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Hoos nearly got over the hump last week at Connecticut but lost a 13-10 heartbreaker.
“[Coach Mendenhall] and his staff do so much for us, and they put in so much time,” Benkert said. “It just hasn’t worked out the first three weeks the way we wanted it to or expected it to. We’ve just worked so hard for so long and for all of it to finally come together and for him to get his 100th win after such a heartbreak last week, there was just a lot of raw emotion in the locker room.”
Captain Micah Kiser said he saw the emotion in his coach. A raucous celebration in the locker room followed the victory.
“It was awesome,” Kiser said. “That was probably the most emotional I have ever seen him. To be able to get his 100th win overall and his first one at UVA, that was a great moment for us.”
Receiver Doni Dowling called it “something big” after he had a career day to help make it happen. He tallied a career-high 98 receiving yards and matched a career-best with five receptions. The Hoos hope the win is one of many to come at Virginia.
“It’s 100 wins. I can’t say I have 100 wins. That’s something big to celebrate,” Dowling said. “I congratulated Coach Mendenhall, but this won’t be his last one, so we’ll keep pushing forward and give him 100 more one day.”