The Virginia football team was stuck between a tough place and a Hard Rock nightmare.
UVA had led since the middle of the first quarter and nearly had complete control of the game until it didn’t. Instead, the Hoos all locked focus on the middle of the field with three seconds remaining and no real control of the outcome. That’s when Miami lined up for a game-winning field goal attempt on its home field from chip shot range, a mere 33 yards away from a comeback story that would be simultaneously infuriating and invigorating depending on the viewer’s allegiance.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they belonged to the latter category. The ball set sail from Hurricane kicker Andres Borregales’ foot and appeared to be on its way to glory before a sharp left turn late off the upright sent the Wahoos into a joyful sprint with a 30-28 victory. It’s the first road win of the season and just the sixth ACC road win of the Bronco Mendenhall era.
“It’s one of those like as an offensive guy, you can’t control and everyone is just sitting there and it’s like this is totally out of our hands, there’s just no control,” UVA quarterback Brennan Armstrong said. “Man, I’ve seen those plenty of times watching football but I don’t think I’ve ever been in one of those where it’s either blocked or missed or one of those types of things. It was crazy. We stormed the field and were running around and it was just kind of chaos. Yeah, it’s really good. We just needed to get back on track. I thought we had a good week of practice, it was quick, but just get back on track with some good morale running through the team.”
Those final tense moments capped off an up-and-down night that left the Hoos looking exhausted and elated all at once. They led 9-0 after a first quarter shutout sparked in part by what turned out to be a crucial safety from hometown senior Mandy Alonso. Miami drove late in the half for a touchdown, but Mike Hollins finished a quick response with a 25-yard touchdown run that gave Virginia a 16-7 lead at the half.
Alonso had 4 tackles that included 2 sacks, while Hollins had 38 yards and that TD on 10 carries. Hollins also had 5 catches for 18 yards. Wayne Taulapapa posted 62 rushing yards and a touchdown plus a two-point conversion run in his return from a concussion that caused him to sit out last week. Billy Kemp IV added 9 caches for 81 yards too.
Still, the Hoos couldn’t quite slam the door at any point. Three different times in the second half the visitors held a two-score lead, but each time saw something keep the Hurricanes in the battle. That included an interception that Armstrong called “my fault” and untimely as it gave Miami new life after a three-and-out to start the half. Instead, the hosts took over on the 18-yard line and quickly scored to get back in the game.
That was the first of two touchdowns on critical third down plays. On this one in the third quarter, Mike Harley hauled in a 16-yard catch in the corner of the end zone to pull within 19-14. Later in the fourth quarter, Cane backup quarterback Tyler Van Dyke scrambled for a 24-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-10 to give his team a shot at that final field goal attempt trailing 30-28. Van Dyke started for the injured D’Eriq King and finished 15-29 passing for 203 yards and a touchdown.
Van Dyke’s touchdown run followed another missed opportunity for the Hoos that left the door open for Miami. They extended their lead to 30-21 on a field goal, but Keytaon Thompson dropped an open catch in the end zone to leave points on the board. It was otherwise a strong night for Thompson despite playing with a cast on a broken hand. He tallied 4 catches for 55 yards and 3 carries for 47 yards.
One other key moment that kept the Hurricanes alive was a 57-yard touchdown run from Cam’Ron Harris as he burst through an opening when the UVA defense missed an assignment or an alignment. That scoring play left the score at 27-21 before the Thompson drop and Van Dyke scramble sequence made the final minutes as stressful as they could get.
Obviously the Wahoos would have preferred to avoid the tug-of-war in the second half, but they’ll take the win after two straight losses to open ACC play. Asked if he was disappointed his team didn’t put the game away, Mendenhall said he was not.
“I don’t have any disappointment. This is just exactly where our team is,” Mendenhall said. “We had chances to put it away on offense, chances to put it away on defense, but this is where we are and that’s what we did. That’s exactly the result we got, which was an ACC win on the road in a much needed time for this program and this team. I think most games are a mixed bad and you might be encouraged or disappointed in something – I’m not allowing myself to be discouraged about anything right now.”
While any of those plays could have flipped the score in any direction, the game’s most topsy-turvy moment came on a rolling one-handed touchdown play that was equal parts improbable and incredible. It came moments after Miami had climbed back into the game at 19-14.
Facing 2nd-and-16 following a sack, Armstrong eyed one of his favorite targets down the field and sent a pass toward a tightly covered Dontayvion Wicks near the end zone. Miami cornerback Marcus Clarke closed quickly in traffic and had his hands on a potential interception, only to have Wicks help break it up just in time. As Wicks crashed to the ground face down, the ball somehow paused on his back and then popped into the air as his momentum rolled him into the end zone. Wicks reached out and snared the ball with one hand for the 36-yard touchdown play.
That was his first catch of the night. Wicks ended up with 2 catches for 75 yards and the touchdown. Armstrong finished 25-44 passing for 268 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He added 19 rushing yards.
Wicks said he didn’t realize what had happened at first.
“To be honest, I don’t even know,” Wicks said. “I didn’t know that I caught it until my teammates came up to me and said I caught it. I was trying to knock it out because I don’t like DBs to catch interceptions off of me so I was trying to knock it out and it bounced up. I just seen it in the air so I grabbed it with one hand. When I got up, they were like it’s a touchdown and then I seen the ref saying it was a touchdown and I was like ‘Nah, it can’t be.’”
Back toward midfield, Armstrong also wasn’t sure what exactly happened. It became one of those best and worst touchdowns in the blink of an eye.
“Definitely one of my worst touchdown passes I’ve ever thrown in my life,” Armstrong said. “Great play by Wicksy. He’s always told me with him being a deep threat, he’s going to make sure if it’s not catchable he’s not going to let them catch it so I can always trust him on that. I didn’t know what happened to be honest with you and then I saw a flag go out and I was kind of confused at that point. Then they said it was a touchdown. I was like holy smokes that’s insane. I was just like OK, we’ll take it. Yeah, it was kind of wild.”
That sums up the Thursday night road trip in general for the Wahoos. They showed a lot of progress, but also some of the same things that can be so frustrating for anyone in orange and blue. They also got the result the wanted, though, and after two lopsided losses, they’ll take it. The victory pushed the team back above .500 and halfway to bowl eligibility at 3-2 on the season.
All of which hung in the balance as Miami lined up that final kick. Mendenhall tried to describe the emotions of the ending after the game.
“I don’t have the vocabulary,” Mendenhall said. “It just is surreal to watch all that and all the efforts both teams put in … and both teams lay it completely out there and it comes down to one play at the end to decide an outcome for so many people and their mindsets and their attitudes and their support or their not support or whatever and it’s just – I don’t know how to describe it. I’m just grateful on the road in a place for a third year in a row and we’ve never won here. This team deserves a lot of credit for that.”