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Passing game lifts football past Duke

DURHAM, N.C.-Late in the second quarter against Duke Saturday, the Virginia football team was looking for a boost. The game was knotted at 3-3, both teams had traded punts for most of the game, and the Cavaliers had the ball on their own 6-yard line. It looked like the score would remain tied at the half.

Then Jonathan Ward and Dan Ellis took matters into their own hands. Behind the true freshman running back and the veteran senior quarterback, the Cavs got the go-ahead touchdown they needed. With momentum on their side, the Cavaliers defeated the Blue Devils 26-10 for their first ACC win.

On Virginia's final drive of the first half, Ward, who was moved onto the depth chart because of Arlen Harris's knee injury, ran three times for 19 yards to move the Cavaliers out of the shadow of the goalposts. Ellis then began attacking through the air, going 5-for-7 on the drive. He ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Dotson with just 26 seconds left in the half.

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    "It's always a lift to get a point on the board," defensive tackle Monsanto Pope said. "And it came at a good time. That took us through halftime fired up, and we came back fired up in the second half."

    After that touchdown, Duke (0-3, 0-1 ACC) came no closer than 20-10 late in the third quarter. When time expired, the Cavaliers (2-1, 1-0) accomplished their main goal: erasing memories of last year's painful 24-17 overtime loss at home to the Blue Devils.

    "We really wanted to get this one," Ellis said. "This was something we circled. We take everything week by week, but once last week was over, it was Duke week. We were up for this one, we were definitely ready for these guys."

    Ellis and sophomore wide receiver Billy McMullen were the stars of the game, connecting for two highlight-reel touchdown passes in the second half.

    McMullen "responded and Ellis struggled with his accuracy in the beginning, but after that he was accurate, and I thought we made some big catches," Virginia coach George Welsh said.

    The 6-foot-4 McMullen finished the game with eight catches for 189 yards, both career highs. Most of his catches came at the expense of Blue Devil cornerbacks Ronnie Hamilton, Derrick Lee and Terrell Smith, none of whom stands taller than 5-11.

    "The guy that was on him was probably 5-10," Ellis said. "I knew that we were going to be able to take advantage of that."

    Welsh praised the passing game for performing well under a heavy Duke pass rush that sacked Ellis four times.

    "They were depending on their pass rush," Welsh said. "Ellis made some great throws under heavy pressure. Accurate throws, not only to McMullen but to some other guys."

    Ellis went 20-for-30 on the day for 333 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

    The Cavalier defense was another bright spot. It held the Blue Devils to one touchdown and improved in key areas from games against Brigham Young and Richmond.

    "We just have to keep aggressive," Thweatt said. "Every week, the tackling has gotten better. This week, the pass rush is better"


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