Football drops second-consecutive game at Pittsburgh

sp-QuinBlanding-CourtesyVirginiaAthletics

Virginia senior free safety Quin Blanding's late-game interception was not enough to turn around the Cavalier's fortunes against Pittsburgh this past  Saturday.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

The prospect of a berth in a bowl game eluded the Virginia football team for a second-straight week as it lost at the hands of Pittsburgh on the road, 31-14. The Cavaliers (5-3, 2-2 ACC) let miscues in offense, defense and special teams get the best of them, squandering many opportunities to swing momentum against the Panthers (4-5, 2-3 ACC).

In the first quarter, Virginia let some prime scoring opportunities slip away, allowing Pittsburgh to capitalize on several mistakes. The Cavaliers rode some big runs on its first drive to the Pittsburgh 38-yard line, but stalled when Virginia senior quarterback Kurt Benkert was intercepted by Pittsburgh sophomore linebacker Saleem Brightwell. The Panthers then sped down the field and scored six plays later on a 14-yard run by junior running back Darrin Hall.

On the ensuing kickoff, Virginia senior running back Daniel Hamm gave the Cavaliers some momentum with a 69-yard return that put the team deep into Pittsburgh territory. However, Benkert and the running game were quickly halted by the Panther defense, and Virginia freshman kicker A.J. Mejia could not convert a 43-yard kick. The Cavaliers spoiled another solid return by Hamm on their next drive, failing to convert a fourth-and-one in Pittsburgh territory and allowing the Panthers to march down the field again for another touchdown. A special teams blunder several drives later led to a 75-yard punt return touchdown for Panthers junior wide receiver Quadree Henderson, putting Pittsburgh up at a commanding 21-0.

Benkert finally caught a rhythm late in the second quarter, firing a 41-yard strike to Virginia senior wide receiver Doni Dowling to push Virginia into the red zone for the first time. Benkert hit Virginia sophomore wide receiver Hasise Dubois in the end zone on the next play to put the Cavaliers on the board. The Cavaliers’ momentum was short-lived, though, as they started the second half with a three-and-out and allowed Pittsburgh to score its fourth touchdown on the next drive.

Virginia managed to stay alive late in the game thanks to an interception by senior free safety Quin Blanding, which Benkert turned into points with a gutsy pass on fourth-and-one to Virginia sophomore tight end Richard Burney. Down 14-28, the Virginia defense could not hold steady, allowing Pittsburgh to convert a field goal on the next drive. Benkert led a drive to the Panthers’ one-yard line in response, but Pittsburgh stuffed Virginia junior running back Jordan Ellis at the goal-line on fourth-and-one to end the Cavalier threat. Pittsburgh worked the clock from there and secured the win.

The Cavaliers could not climb back into the game despite several chances to do so. The Panthers held Ellis in check for most of the game, allowing him to rush for only 58 yards. Meanwhile, Hall bruised the Virginia defense all day, putting up 111 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Having to do most of the heavy lifting on offense, Benkert was not very efficient, completing only 22 of 42 passes for 212 yards.

Virginia returns home next week to face Georgia Tech, looking to break its losing streak and — yet again — secure a spot in a bowl game.    

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