Wahoos Trample Tribe

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Kevin Parks posted 114 yards rushing and 3 TDs.

The last time William & Mary visited Charlottesville, Scott Stadium turned into a house of horrors for the Virginia football team. Saturday’s return trip featured nary a hint of such terrifying times. Not one. The Cavaliers did not turn the ball over and eventually erupted for a 40-3 victory as 51,956 UVa fans left happy with thoughts of a bright future dancing in their heads.

“I’m happy for the success of the entire team. It’s a very good win for the program. It’s our first win and first wins are always the best wins because you have an opportunity for another one the next game up,” said London, who improved to 4-0 in season openers as a head coach. “At this stage of the program and where we’re at, we’re trying to win games and that was a good start for us this year.”

Beyond the revenge factor of 2009, the 2011 season opener with the Tribe had been expected to be a story of ‘what’s new’ at Virginia in many ways. After all, several redshirt freshmen and a top 25 recruiting class joined the fray for London’s second year at the helm.

The youngsters didn’t disappoint in their debuts.

Redshirt freshman running back Kevin Parks led the team in rushing yards and scoring. True freshman Demetrious Nicholson , who became the first true freshman to start the season opener at cornerback since Kevin Cook in 1986, picked off a pass to set up a touchdown and helped the defense hold William & Mary to just 169 yards of offense. Clifton Richardson , a true freshman running back, added 57 yards and a score too. True freshman Darius Jennings put up 61 receiving yards and 59 return yards on special teams. David Watford had some strong-looking throws in limited action too and completed 3 of 5 passes overall.

All told, 22 players checked into a college game for the first time on Saturday night. In addition to Nicholson, Richardson, Jennings, and Watford, the following true freshmen checked into action: Anthony Harris , Dominique Terrell , D.J. Hill , Kameron Mack , Brandon Phelps , Daquan Romero , Thompson Brown , and Kelby Johnson . Besides Parks, the following redshirt freshman played for UVa for the first time: Drequan Hoskey, Henry Coley , Zachary Swanson , Matt Fortin, Miles Gooch , Jake McGee , Khalek Shepherd , Conner Davis , and Cody Wallace .

Parks, however, stole the show in his first action in orange and blue. Parks visited the end zone three times and piled up 114 rushing yards on 16 carries. He did not lose yardage on a single rushing attempt and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. He became the first Cavalier to rush for three touchdowns in his college debut since Bob Davis in 1964; Davis accomplished the feat as a sophomore since freshmen were not eligible to play at that time.

Throughout the night, Parks showed a decisive and confident running style – one cut and get up field quickly. For the most part, Parks also proved tough to bring down as he began to fill in the role left by Keith Payne last season.

Parks, who had 55 100-yard rushing games and scored 158 touchdowns in his high school career, said he’s still focused on improving even after the fast start to his Cav career.

“Well back in high school, but like I said, I’m stilling trying to get better each and every day and that’s what I’m going to do,” Parks said with a smile when asked if he had scored three touchdowns in a game. “It felt real good just to be back on the field and playing again. I thank the coaches for trusting me and putting me in the game. It just felt real good. The offensive linemen played well. I think everybody played well. We complemented each other. The defense got the ball back for us. We put points on the board. The backs made great blocks, the wide receivers made great blocks downfield. Everybody just played real well.”

Though not making his playing debut, quarterback Michael Rocco did make his first start and lived up to the challenge with an efficient night of work. Rocco completed 21 of 29 passes, including 11 for 11 to start, for 174 yards with 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He also avoided being sacked. Nothing spectacular, but nothing glowingly wrong either. Running back Perry Jones said Rocco handled himself well in the huddle as well, but noted that both Rocco and the offense have to keep working to improve. In total, Rocco helped lead the offense to 496 total yards, 26 first downs, and the all-important 40 points.

Rocco said he just focused on doing what he’s supposed to do in the opener.

“Coach [Bill] Lazor had a great game plan trying to get me into a rhythm,” Rocco said. “That’s my job to get the ball in the hands of my playmakers … It’s my job to get the ball in the hands of playmakers and whether it is 11 for 11 or whatever it is, it’s my job and I take it as that.”

Michael Rocco completed his first 11 passes vs. the Tribe.

The highlight play of the night in the passing game came when Rocco lofted a pass down the visiting sidelines to Tim Smith for a 40-yard gain. The ball may have been slightly underthrown, but Smith made the adjustment and caught the ball over the top of cornerback B.W. Webb, whose image had visited the Wahoos’ film study throughout the week. Webb sealed the 2009 win with an interception return for touchdown and ran the ball all the way into the tunnel. It’s the only clip from two years ago that the coaches showed the team as a message.

Smith said he just wanted to make a play on the ball, but that it was good to make the play over Webb in particular.

“We had been hearing a lot about him all week. I think Coach probably played that play just about every day this week. I just had that stuck in my head and I had to go up and make a play,” Smith said. “I just pinned it to him and held onto it. I thought I had scored, but I guess I came up short.”

“I expect him to make big plays because he’s a big-time player. I just threw it up there and knew he was going to come down with it; I really had confidence in him to come down with it,” Rocco said of the catch. “I kind of had put that video that they had showed us about [Webb] intercepting the ball a couple of years ago in my periphery and I knew Tim was going to make a play so I just trusted him.”

Cavalier fans hope that throw and catch between a pair of sophomores, like many of the moments from youngsters in the first game of 2011, is merely the first of many to come.

Final Stats

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