The University of Virginia football defense was able to make enough stops for the Cavaliers to edge North Carolina in a pair of shootout victories the previous two seasons. This was not the case this Saturday night in Chapel Hill. North Carolina scored touchdowns on eight of 12 drives, including all five second-half possessions, on its way to a 59-39 win over the Cavaliers.
UNC’s 20-point victory spoiled another stellar performance from Virginia redshirt junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who set a single game school record with 554 yards passing and tossed four touchdown passes. Wide receivers Dontayvion Wicks (7 receptions, 183 yards, 1 TD) and Billy Kemp IV (8 receptions, 106 yards, 2 TD) headlined a top-notch performance from the Virginia receiving corps.
The story throughout was North Carolina’s offensive dominance. The Tar Heels needed only eight plays to rack up 239 yards and three touchdowns on their first three drives. After one quarter, UVA found itself trailing 21-7. Armstrong and the Cavalier offense stormed back from a 24-7 second quarter deficit, reeling off 21 unanswered to take a 28-24 lead into halftime. Armstrong found Kemp IV on a 21-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds of the second quarter to put the visitors on top.
UVA’s lead did not last long. Only two minutes, 56 seconds in fact. Virginia’s defense, which held North Carolina to 3 points on its final three possessions of the first half, yielded 246 yards rushing and 35 points to the Tar Heels in the second half. UVA’s offense could not keep pace, scoring just one second half touchdown – an Armstrong touchdown pass to Kemp that cut the UNC lead to 52-39 in the fourth quarter – as UNC led by as much as 21.
Playing without senior free safety Nick Grant and starting defensive lineman Adeeb Atariwa, the Cavalier defense surrendered 699 total yards (392 rushing, 307 passing). UNC’s Preseason All-ACC quarterback Sam Howell passed for 307 yards and five scores and rushed for 112 yards. Grad-transfer running back Ty Chandler recorded 198 yards rushing and two scores on 20 carries, spearheading a Tar Heel ground game that averaged 8.3 yards per carry and had 13 plays of more than 10 yards. UVA surrendered over 200 yards to a UNC receiver for the third straight year, as sophomore Josh Downs finished with 203 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions. Downs’ 59-yard and 37-yard scores put UNC up 14-0.
“Surprised, yeah, and certainly there was an overevaluation on our part based on Week 1 and Week 2 and an underevaluation possibly of the matchups and what UNC might challenge us with, and so it’s a combination of both things which led to that type of performance,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said, referring to the performance of his defense, which allowed only two touchdowns combined against William & Mary and Illinois. “So this adds a lot more substance to exactly where we are.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said of his defense in his postgame remarks to Jay James.
Defensive lineman Aaron Faumui recorded the only sack of the day for the Virginia defense. Cornerback Fentrell Cypress II made his first career interception, picking off Howell as UVA rallied from the 17-point second-quarter deficit. Linebacker Noah Taylor led UVA with 12 tackles, including five solo efforts and a tackle-for-loss.
UVA’s offense finished with 574 yards of offense, 553 of which came through the air. In addition to Kemp IV and Wicks, tight end Jelani Woods turned in a second consecutive quality effort, pulling down six catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Ra’Shaun Henry and Keytaon Thompson each had four receptions and over 60 yards, running back Mike Hollins had four receptions for 34 yards, and Jacob Rodriguez added three catches for 23 yards. Rodriguez, Hollins and Thompson were UVA’s leading rushers with 14, 13 and 11 yards, but no Virginia runner had a carry of 10 yards or more.
Saturday’s road loss drops Virginia to 2-1 on the season, including 0-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Undefeated Wake Forest of the ACC’s Atlantic Division is up next. The Demon Deacons, who cruised to a home win over Florida State earlier in the day, take on the Hoos in Scott Stadium next Friday, September 24. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.
“There’s no time to feel sorry or do anything other than reflect, learn, recommit, and play better,” Mendenhall said. “We play Friday night and then we play on a Thursday night, so, yeah, the clock’s ticking. It’s a fast turnaround.”
– Highlights from ACC Digital Network
– Starting SABRE safety Joey Blount left the game in the second half with an injury. He returned to the field without his pads and with his right arm in a sling. Mendenhall said postgame that Blount has a collarbone injury, adding that the collarbone did not appear broken.
Starting X linebacker Noah Taylor appeared banged up on two different occasions but was able to stay in and keep playing.
– Reserve safety Coen King was called for targeting in the second half. He was ejected, and because the penalty occurred in the second half he will miss the first half of the Wake Forest contest as well.
– Running back Wayne Taulapapa (concussion) did not play in the second half because of injury.
– For the second consecutive year, UNC did not punt against Virginia.
– Placekicker Justin Duenkel connected on a 34-yard field goal that put UVA within 10, 38-28, in the third quarter. This was Duenkel’s only attempt of the game. A nice rebound after missing two field goals against Illinois. The sophomore is 3-5 on field goals this season.
– UVA performed very well on third down, converting 8-of-14 tries. UNC was better, though, converting 7-of-9. UVA was 2-2 on fourth down.
– UVA finished with nine penalties for 102 yards. The Hoos had eight penalties for 74 yards against Illinois. Back-to-back disappointing performances in this area after UVA opened with just two penalties against William & Mary.