Wake Forest downs Virginia, 16-10
Cavaliers' special teams miscues lead to team's sixth straight loss
The Virginia football team’s first special teams blunder helped stake Wake Forest to an early lead. The unit’s last blunder cost the Cavaliers’ offense any chance of making up that margin in the game’s final minutes.
The Demon Deacons (4-3, 2-3 ACC) snapped a two-game losing streak, winning for just the second time in their last 13 games at Scott Stadium and handing the Cavaliers (2-6, 0-3 ACC) their sixth straight defeat Saturday, 16-10.
Despite holding Wake Forest to 1-for-15 on third down conversion attempts and outgaining their opponent for the fourth straight week, the Cavaliers remain one of two winless teams in ACC play. Virginia now enters its bye week on its longest losing streak since the end of the 2009 season, coach Al Groh’s final with the University before coach Mike London took over as head coach.
“I’d rather play tomorrow,” sophomore defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite said of the bye week. “These last six games, you build up a lot of anger and aggression and you want to just go out there and beat up on the person in front of you.”
Sandwiched between the two most glaring mistakes by Virginia’s special teams were several more blooper reel-worthy plays that cost the team at the most inopportune times.
Sophomore running back Khalek Shepherd eased under the final booming punt from Wake Forest redshirt freshman Alexander Kinal while the wind swirled over Charlottesville. The ball sailed over the hands of Shepherd, careened off the returner’s facemask and bounced to Wake Forest redshirt sophomore safety Joe LaBarbera for the final, clinching error. The Demon Deacons used three kneel downs to secure the six-point victory.
“It’s frustrating because we have a bunch of try-hard kids that want to get it done right, but we’re not getting it done,” London said. “We’ve got to find a way to get it done and help them to be successful.”
Wake Forest redshirt senior wide receiver Lovell Jackson returned sophomore Alec Vozenilek’s opening punt 60 yards to set up first down at the Cavalier 16-yard line. On the Demon Deacons’ first play from scrimmage, redshirt junior running back Josh Harris took a direct snap and punched it in for a touchdown. Wake Forest became Virginia’s third opponent this season and the second straight to score on or before its first play from scrimmage.
“It’s very demoralizing,” London said. “You make things difficult for yourself when you continue to move the ball on special teams.”
After gaining just 12 yards on their first three drives, the Cavaliers responded with a 56-yard completion between former high school teammates sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims and junior wide receiver Tim Smith. The drive stalled, however, and redshirt freshman placekicker Ian Frye’s 44-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
The Virginia offense cracked the scoreboard just before the first half concluded. Sims completed 7-of-11 passes in the half’s last drive and picked up two first downs with his legs on a 13-play, 72-yard drive. Sims found Smith in stride cutting from the left sideline toward the middle of the field on a second-and-10 throw from the Wake Forest 13-yard line, and Smith outraced the Demon Deacon defense to the right pylon to tie the score at 7-7.
With just 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Virginia kickoff unit squandered the momentum before halftime. Frye sent a squib kick short and redshirt senior cornerback Chibuikem Okoro caught the ball on a high hop with his momentum going forward. Okoro went out of bounds at the Demon Deacon 40-yard line, but Cavalier senior tight end Kyle McCartin was whistled for a late hit out of bounds personal foul. That penalty pushed the ball into Virginia territory.
Wake Forest junior quarterback Tanner Price lobbed a deep jump ball near the Virginia goal line and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Brandon Terry came down with the completion at the Cavalier 4-yard line. The Demon Deacons elected to kick a field goal on first down with just six seconds remaining to take a 10-7 edge at halftime.
The Demon Deacons added another field goal on their opening drive of the second half to make the score 13-7. Midway through the third quarter, a Virginia team with the second worst turnover differential in the nation committed its first giveaway on a fumble by sophomore running back Kevin Parks, giving possession back to Wake Forest at the Cavalier 37-yard line.
Wake Forest was unable to move the chains and Kinal came onto the field to punt it away on fourth-and-11. But on the return, Cavalier sophomore linebacker Henry Coley was whistled for an illegal block in the back penalty that was assessed from the previous spot. The foul enabled the Wake Forest offense to remain on the field for a fourth-and-one try, and Price snuck past the first-down marker on a quarterback keeper to continue the drive. Wake Forest went on to add another field goal to extend the lead to 16-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Shepherd brought the ball out from one yard deep in his own end zone. Shepherd lost his footing as he crossed the 10-yard line and fell flat on his face before the Demon Deacon kick coverage team could reach him.
“It seems like we can’t catch a break, but we just have to push it each and every week,” Smith said. “It wasn’t one thing specifically that caused us to lose the game, it was a lot of stuff.”
Sims completed 22-of-39 passes for 253 yards with a touchdown and an interception, remaining poised after his deep ball to sophomore wide receiver Darius Jennings on Virginia’s first drive of the fourth quarter was intercepted. Rocco did not play, marking the first time this season the Cavaliers have used just one quarterback in a game.
Virginia will have its bye week this Saturday and then travel to Raleigh, N.C. to face N.C. State (5-2, 2-1 ACC) Nov. 3.