Football is victorious in last home game of the season, 45-24

Cavaliers dominate Liberty on Senior Day

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Junior wide receiver Joe Reed had one of the best games of his career against Liberty Saturday.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

In its last home game of the season, Virginia football left Scott Stadium on a good note as it defeated Liberty, 45-24. 

“I’m really excited for our seniors,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “So pleased that they were able to win at home on their last appearance at Scott Stadium.”

At Saturday’s game, the Cavaliers (7-3, 4-2 ACC) honored its 27 seniors, who have been a part of the program’s growth during Mendenhall’s three years as head coach.

“I think it’s significant that they finished with a winning season,” Mendenhall said. “Certainly there’s more emphasis and more games to play, but seven wins is a significant mark for our program, for the University of Virginia, and what we’re accomplishing, and they can claim ownership of that. They’ve been instrumental in ensuring that that happened.”

Liberty (4-5) was first to get on the scoreboard, as they scored on the opening drive of the game. The 1-yard touchdown run from junior running back Frankie Hickson came after sophomore running back Peytton Pickett recorded runs of 29 yards and 18 yards to get the Flames in dangerous field position. 

The Cavaliers evened things out quickly, though. After junior wide receiver Joe Reed returned the kickoff for 37 yards, junior quarterback Bryce Perkins connected with Reed for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Before the quarter ended, Perkins put the Cavaliers ahead as he ran for a 13-yard touchdown. 

In the second quarter, sophomore outside linebacker Elliot Brown picked up an interception on Liberty’s first drive. The Cavaliers then marched down the field, where senior tailback Jordan Ellis recorded a 1-yard touchdown to increase Virginia’s lead. The Flames then put away a 37-yard field goal with 2 minutes 35 seconds to go in the half, making the score 21-10. After Perkins threw an interception, Liberty’s offense quickly took advantage as Hickson recorded a 7-yard touchdown run. Sophomore kicker Brian Delaney finished out the half with a 33-yard field goal, giving Virginia a 24-17 lead going into the locker room. The Cavaliers recorded 135 rushing and 108 passing yards in the half, while the Flames had 101 passing yards and 139 rushing yards. 

The second half opened up with a touchdown from Reed as he returned the kick-off for 90 yards, getting his second touchdown of the night. 

”It’s really gratifying to see someone who really tries so hard and is such a great person and great kid to be able to see it happen on the field,” Mendenhall said of Reed. “When I walked into the locker room, the team was already yelling ‘Joe Reed, Joe Reed!’ It was in unison. There were no other candidates that were voted for breaking the rock today.”

The Flames responded with a touchdown on the next drive, as Pickett ran for 18 yards to get inside the end zone and make the score 31-24. 

Perkins then rushed for his second touchdown of the game, opening up Virginia’s lead to 38-24. 

Interceptions by sophomore safety De’Vante Cross and senior strong-safety Juan Thornhill – who suffered an injury during last week’s Pitt game – kept Liberty’s offense from closing in on the Cavaliers. 

“I knew I was going to be back,” Thornhill said. “I was determined to play in this game. I wasn’t going to let my team play without me. I felt like I play a big role on this team and if I don’t play, I’m leaving the team out to dry.”

In the fourth quarter, Reed picked up another touchdown after receiving a 6-yard touchdown pass from Perkins, giving Virginia the 45-24 win. 

“Tonight it seemed like everything was clicking,” Reed said. “I had heart-to-hearts with the seniors that are leaving, told them I would do everything that I could to send them out with a bang on their last time playing here. I was just trying to execute and play team ball.”

Virginia finished with 221 rushing yards, led by Ellis’ team-high 106 rushing yards. Overall, the team had 389 total yards on offense. The win marked the Cavaliers’ seventh of the season, making it the most successful season Mendenhall and the seniors have had at Virginia. 

“This my first winning season since I’ve been here,” Ellis said. “It means a lot to me, all of the effort we have put into building this program up and laying a foundation. I’m happy to be involved in the start of something great.” 

Mendenhall also commented on the growth of the program, and how meaningful it is for the seniors to have achieved such success. 

“If you step back for just a second, we were in this room three seasons ago and we were 2-10,” Mendenhall said. “Now we’re bowl eligible and now we’re a winning program, and there’s been a lot that’s happened in a pretty short amount of time. And so, for our seniors, I don’t really know how to describe it any better than that they have caused it and I am so proud of them.”

The Cavaliers will now prepare for the last two games of the regular season, which include a road game against Georgia Tech and a road game against in-state rivals, Virginia Tech. 

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