Virginia quells Miami, 30-13

Cavaliers snap four-game losing streak, stay bowl-eligible heading into finale at Tech

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Junior place kicker Ian Frye stepped into a 21-yard field goal late in the third quarter against Miami Saturday night at Scott Stadium, his kick splitting the uprights for an apparent 16-7 Virginia lead.

But Hurricanes sophomore defensive back Artie Burns roughed Frye on the play, and the resulting penalty refreshed the Cavaliers’ set of downs.

Set up at the Miami two-yard line with four chances for the touchdown, Virginia twice handed off to senior running back Khalek Shepherd for snuffed-out rushes. Then, senior receiver Darius Jennings — wearing No. 17 in honor of injured fellow senior wideout Miles Gooch — took the ball from sophomore quarterback Greyson Lambert on a jet sweep, breaking the goal line seconds later at the 1:37 mark.

After Frye’s extra point, Virginia widened its lead to 20-7. From there, the Cavaliers gradually added to the good feeling — momentarily halting when medical personnel carted Miami junior receiver Herb Waters off the field — that suffused the Virginia football scene on a cold night in Charlottesville.

Back at Scott Stadium for the first time since a disheartening 28-27 loss to North Carolina four weeks ago, Virginia seized a 13-7 halftime lead against the Hurricanes and only improved after the break, shutting out Miami until garbage time and scoring 17 points to post a 30-13 win on Senior Night. The Cavaliers (5-6, 3-4 ACC) halted a four-game losing streak to stay bowl eligible, heading into next Saturday’s road finale at Virginia Tech.

“The locker room was ecstatic,” junior receiver Canaan Severin said. “That’s what we needed. When you lose four in a row, you need something to pick you back up, especially when you’re still eligible. It’d be easy to put your head down and just say, you know, ‘We lost four in a row. We’ll play the last two [and] be done.’ But that’s not what this team is about.”

At the final horn, Virginia fans stormed the field, celebrating the Cavaliers’ fourth victory against the Hurricanes (6-5, 3-4 Coastal) in the past five years.

Standout Cavaliers including Jennings, running backs Kevin Parks and Shepherd, linebackers Daquan Romero and Henry Coley and safety Anthony Harris played their final home games. The seniors led the charge on both sides of the ball — Harris registered a team-high 10 tackles and Shepherd paced the Cavaliers with 128 all-purpose yards — but the underclassmen stepped up as well.

“We’ve got 25 seniors, and this is our last ride,” sophomore outside linebacker Max Valles said. “As one of the younger guys, I felt like I had to give it everything I had. As a team, everyone did his job tonight and it was a great win.”

Valles brought Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya to the turf three times as the Virginia defense limited the Hurricanes — the nation’s 46th-ranked rushing offense — to 64 net yards on the ground. Miami junior running back Duke Johnson came into the game 122 yards short of Ottis Anderson for No. 1 on the Hurricanes’ all-time rushing list. After carrying 15 times for a season-low of 88 yards, he is still No. 2.

With Virginia nursing a 10-7 advantage as the first-half clock wound down, Romero blocked Miami freshman place kicker Michael Badgley’s 34-yard field goal attempt. Junior cornerback Maurice Canady came up with the ball and rumbled 65 yards downfield to the Hurricane three-yard line. Though the Cavaliers ended up kicking a field goal, coach Mike London said Romero’s block changed the game.

“We talked about flying to the ball,” London said. “Turnovers … big sacks, caused fumbles. That’s the type of defense that we were playing early on in the season that got us to that 4-2 mark. It’s the type of defense we need to continue to play in order to finish out this regular season.”

Parks left the game in the first quarter after suffering an injury on a first-down run, placing the onus on Shepherd and sophomore running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell to churn out rushing yardage. Shepherd answered the call, rushing for a season-high 97 yards — including a critical 28-yard gain that London said set up Jennings’ critical third-quarter score.

“Wasn’t it outstanding?” London said of Shepherd’s performance. “It was an outstanding job for a guy that is a selfless guy. … I can’t say enough about a guy that’s played his last home football game here that has been such an instrumental part in just the overall aspects of what we do here offensively.”

Severin made the play of the game, hauling in a one-handed, 23-yard touchdown reception with the safety closing in to spot Virginia a 10-7 lead with 3:21 to play in the first quarter. Severin reached out as far as he could to bring the ball in, and his momentum carried him across the goal line.

The athletic play prompted calls for inclusion on SportsCenter’s Top 10 and earned high praise from London, who called Severin’s grab “one of the best catches I have ever seen.”

“I was surprised I even caught it, to be honest,” Severin said. “Greyson put me in a good spot to make a catch. I made it.”

Virginia will now travel to Blacksburg for a Friday-night battle between two 5-6 teams who hope to remain in the running for a bowl game. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. London said his players deserved a night to enjoy what they accomplished against Miami before turning to the Hokies.

“Big guy upstairs is shining down on us for this day, this moment,” London said. “They deserve it. It’s short lived because now, you know, we’ve got a short week, short turnaround and have to go play our last regular-season game on the road. But, I’m sure those guys are excited about that. So we’re moving forward, we’re moving on.”

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