Each half started with a surge for the Virginia football team on Saturday. Unfortunately, the opening wave calmed to a ripple both times and UVA could not hold off Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to claim a 27-20 victory.
Wake’s closing kick secured the bowl fates of each team. The Cavaliers fell to 2-7 on the season and outside of postseason consideration as a result, while the Deacs moved to 6-3 to secure bowl eligibility.
“It was a hard fought football game,” Wahoo coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Congratulations to Wake Forest and the progress they’re making in Coach Clawson’s third season. I think he does a nice job managing his team and the style of play that fits their institution with the talent base that they have.”
“[Six] is a magic number, and now you work like crazy to get seven,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “We’ve got some tough games ahead of us, but it’s nice to know we’ve got six and we’re now bowl eligible. We’re going to work on seven and see what we can do, but it’s a great feeling. … I was very open about it and very frank about it at the beginning of the year, that I thought it was a very realistic expectation to go to a bowl game this year. I would have been very disappointed if we didn’t get into a bowl. But this gives us momentum, along with building a brand new football center. This gives us recruiting momentum, this gives us program momentum.”
While the victory may have provided a big picture boost for the Demon Deacons, a pair of fourth quarter interceptions did the trick for this game’s momentum.
The Cavaliers owned a 20-17 lead and moved the ball near midfield before a 3rd-and-8 play turned into an interception. UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert tried to hit Doni Dowling an inside-breaking route, but missed behind his receiver. Dowling managed to get his hand on the pass, but in an effort to bring it back toward his body, the ball popped into the air and landed in the arms of Cameron Glenn. He returned it 41 yards to set up an eventual field goal to tie the score.
On the next drive, disaster struck for the Wahoos. After an incomplete pass and a 12-yard sack left the offense at 3rd-and-22 at its own 13-yard line, Benkert tried to make a superman play instead of a safe play. He escaped some pressure, but then launched a pass late down the middle of field into heavy coverage. Jessie Bates easily made the pick and then picked up some good blocks on the way to a 39-yard touchdown return. Bates has 5 interceptions this season and returned a pair for touchdowns.
That INT, the third pick-6 of the season against Benkert, lifted the Deacs to a 27-20 lead and it held up for the win. Benkert also had a fumble on an attempted handoff near the end of the first half and WFU turned that into a touchdown drive too.
“The difference in the game today was Wake Forest took the ball away three times, and we didn’t take it away,” Mendenhall said. “There might be other story lines that branch off from there but really you can trace that to being the difference in the game. We were able to steal a possession back with our pop-up kick, which was executed really well. I would say that shrunk it down to two extra possessions. One of the turnovers went for a touchdown, another was short field, and another lead to three points. The difference in the game, in my opinion, was ball security and takeaways.”
Benkert finished 20-of-39 passing for 190 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Doni Dowling led the way with 8 receptions for 76 yards and 1 touchdown, an impressive one-handed grab despite blanket coverage at the goal line. Taquan Mizzell added 6 catches for 79 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown catch on a scramble play where the defense lost track of him.
Mizzell also chipped in 80 yards rushing on 16 carries, while Albert Reid added 29 yards on 4 carries. Jordan Ellis got a single carry that went for a 6-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game. Despite each averaging better than 5.0 yards per carry, the trio only got 21 carries on the day. All three got a call on the first drive of the game and produced 7 carries for 59 yards and the opening touchdown.
Despite the fast start to the game – and the second half – it still added up to another inconsistent day for the offense overall. The opening drive went 10 plays and 75 yards, but was followed by 4 punts and the aforementioned fumble. Those drives each tallied 5 plays or less and 21 yards or less. The second half started with another 10-play touchdown drive for Virginia that covered 53 yards. The Hoos followed up with 6 of 7 drives going for 21 yards or less.
Of course, two of those were the critical interceptions.
“Sometimes you’re going to get sacked. It’s sometimes better to take the sack than deliver the ball in traffic,” Mendenhall said. “He is trying so hard to extend plays, and I applaud him for that. He doesn’t have to do it all by himself.”