Duke rallies past Virginia, 35-22
Blue Devils overcome 22-0 deficit, earn first ACC win of the season
After three straight losses in what appeared to be a series of very winnable games, the Virginia football team was left to desperately seek for answers as it headed into its third ACC matchup of the year. Early on in Saturday’s home contest against Duke, it appeared that the Cavaliers had indeed taken those losses to heart and fixed many of the lingering issues they had on the field. Leading 22-0 against a talented Blue Devil team, the players looked like maybe, at last, they had reached their stride.
But as with each of the previous three weeks, any hope Virginia (2-5, 0-3 ACC) could muster proved to be short-lived. Duke (5-2, 1-2 ACC) scored just before halftime to get on the board, and after the break the wheels fell off for the Cavaliers. They fought back in vain as Duke piled on point after point, and before Virginia could respond, the Blue Devils had scored 35 unanswered. Instead of celebrating, coach Mike London’s team was left wondering, again, what went wrong.
“In the second half, we couldn’t stop them, we couldn’t hang onto the ball and continue drives,” London said. “It’s disappointing — very disappointing — and frustrating.”
Virginia’s collapse was made more shocking given the team’s hot start. Sophomore quarterback David Watford led the Cavaliers quickly down the field on the first drive of the game, finding three different receivers to march into Duke territory. After an 11-yard pass to junior tight end Zachary Swanson brought the ball to the one-yard line, junior tailback Kevin Parks scored his first of three first-half touchdowns to give the Cavaliers an early 7-0 lead.
Virginia would push further ahead late in the quarter. On that drive, Watford found senior wide receiver Tim Smith on a 51-yard pass, and Parks once again found the end zone from one yard out. Watford finished the first quarter with 139 yards on 8-of-12 passing, and the team as a whole had 175 yards of offense.
“In the first half, guys were confident, guys were having fun and guys were flying around making plays,” senior guard Luke Bowanko said.
Virginia again pushed its lead midway through the second quarter when Watford found Parks for 13-yard touchdown connection. After a successful two-point conversion, Virginia led 22-0, capping one of the team’s strongest runs of the season.
Duke responded five minutes later as Blue Devil junior quarterback Anthony Boone found junior wide receiver Jamison Crowder for a six-yard touchdown pass. Virginia got the ball back with 46 seconds remaining in the half, but went three-and-out, taking just 25 seconds off the clock. It was the Cavalier’s second straight three-and-out.
“Going into halftime, we let them get a score,” junior safety Anthony Harris said. “Coming back out, we knew we’d have to go out there and the first drive would be key. You watch college football right now, you see teams with big leads early and then you see a lot of guys come back, so you try to talk it up.”
Duke got the ball after halftime and began to drive, but Harris intercepted Boone at Virginia’s 28-yard line. But the Cavaliers were unable to capitalize on the turnover, going three-and-out on the ensuing drive. Virginia gained just seven total yards of offense in the third quarter, going three-and-out three times — to the Blue Devils’ advantage.
Duke sophomore kicker Ross Martin hit a 25-yard field goal, and junior backup quarterback Brandon Connette found the end zone on a six-yard run as Duke closed the deficit to 22-17. While Virginia held the lead as time expired in the third quarter, the momentum had clearly turned in the Blue Devils’ favor. The Cavaliers were unable to respond.
“It was just execution errors on our part,” Bowanko said. “When guys needed to make a play, they didn’t make the play.”
The fourth quarter brought more of the same. Duke took the lead on a 47-yard pass from Connette to junior tight end Braxton Deaver, and Deaver would score again later in the quarter on a 24-yard pass from Boone to push the lead to 32-22. A 32-yard field goal from Martin made the final score 35-22.
“Thirty-five unanswered points is ridiculous,” Parks said. “I am feeling a little frustrated right now. They kept playing and we didn’t. They played four quarters and we played a half of [a] football [game].”
After racking up 280 yards of offense in the first half, Virginia had just 83 yards in the second half. The letdown was stunning, and for the fourth straight week, the Cavaliers left the field without an answer after squandering another winnable game.
“That’s what’s so frustrating about us,” senior defensive end Jake Snyder said. “We’ve got good players, we’ve got good schemes in, and we’ve just need to put it together over four quarters … People are pissed off that we lose, but no one’s hanging their head, no one’s thinking the season is lost.”
Virginia biggest challenge moving forward is simply recovering. Four straight losses can snowball quickly, especially with a difficult opponent next week in Georgia Tech.
“[London] basically said guys can pack it up or guys can come out and fight,” Harris said. “We’re going to have our meeting tomorrow like we usually do on Sundays and come prepared, and he said he was going to be there. The guys who show up are the guys who want to play, and that’s who we’re going to go with.”
For London, motivating his players to continue battling will be his main focus.
“These are young men and they have to deal with this,” London said. “We have to block out distractions and we have to move on and move forward. These guys are students and athletes and they want to win. We are young enough not to know that when adversity appears, we have to respond and bounce back from those things.”