Career effort by Johns propels Virginia past Duke

Junior quarterback throws for two touchdowns, career-high 344 yards


Saturday evening Virginia football played like a team that had nothing to lose. Having been eliminated from bowl eligibility, the Cavaliers (4-7, 3-4 ACC) opened up on offense and handed a reeling Duke squad their fourth straight loss, 42-34.

“The guys just hung in there again,” coach Mike London said. “We executed — did what we needed to do — to win a good football game against a good football team.”

On Military Appreciation Day at Scott Stadium, Virginia opened with shock and awe. The Cavaliers unleashed a salvo of 21 points and scored on all three of their drives.

The Blue Devils (6-5, 3-4 ACC) opened the game with the ball and moved it confidently down the field. Duke had a first down on Virginia’s 46, but Virginia’s defense buckled down and forced a punt.

Starting at their own 20, the Cavaliers needed only six plays to move the length of the field. Junior quarterback Matt Johns connected with sophomore tailback Daniel Hamm on a 48-yard screen pass that placed Virginia at Duke’s 13-yard line. In the red zone, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild dug deep into the playbook. The Cavaliers scored their first points on a double pass from Johns to freshman Olamide Zaccheaus to redshirt freshman Evan Butts.

“It’s nice when you can air it out and let your guys go make plays,” junior quarterback Matt Johns said. “Our wide receivers did a great job getting open and our offensive line did a great job protecting me.”

Virginia’s defense forced the first of three turnovers on the ensuing drive. Once again, the Blue Devils crossed midfield but then stalled. Junior quarterback Thomas Sirk threw a deep pass into the end zone on third and 17, but redshirt freshman corner Darious Latimore picked off the attempt.

“We knew their offense was very good,” senior defensive lineman Mike Moore said. “We just knew we had to get turnovers on defense.”

The Cavalier offense wasted little time in capitalizing on Duke’s error. Johns opened the drive with a 45-yard bomb to freshman wideout David Aldridge. After two rushing plays, senior T.J. Thorpe took the ball 26 yards into the end zone. A wide receiver, Thorpe lined up as a running back on that scoring play.

Johns completed 24 of his 33 attempts against Duke. The Chalfont, Pennsylvania native threw for a career-high 344 yards and two touchdowns.

“It was very important for Matt to continue his growth,” London said. “The maturation process of a quarterback is only developed when you’re playing — when you’re in the fire.”

Virginia went to great lengths to incorporate Thorpe — the Durham, North Carolina native — into the offense. After recording only five receptions over the prior three games, Thorpe rushed twice for 25 yards and caught five passes for 58 yards.

“Whatever opportunities come, just be prepared,” Thorpe said. “Putting an emphasis on having fun — that was the coaching point all week.”

Backup quarterback sophomore Parker Boehme then entered the game for Duke, and promptly fumbled his first snap. Senior defensive end Mike Moore recovered, which set up Virginia’s third touchdown of the quarter — a three-yard rush by junior running back Taquan Mizzell.

The Cavaliers sole blemish in the first 15 minutes of action came on the kickoff following Mizzell’s touchdown. Junior safety DeVon Edwards took that kick 94 yards to make the game 21-7.

The game’s second quarter was tame in contrast. Duke bookended a 36-yard touchdown reception by Mizzell with two field goals, and the Cavaliers carried a 28-13 advantage into the half.

Virginia padded their lead by outscoring the Blue Devils 14-7 in the third quarter. Scoring touchdowns for Virginia in the quarter were Mizzell, who ran the ball in from ten yards out, and Zaccheaus, who reeled in a Johns pass for a 50-yard score.

Zaccheaus exhibited his versatility against the Blue Devils. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native finished the game with 109 yards of total offense, one touchdown reception, one touchdown pass and 163 all-purpose yards.

“He’s a guy that has a lot of skill,” London said. “He is such an added bonus to our offense.”

With a 42-20 lead and only one quarter remaining, the Cavaliers took their foot off the gas, and let Duke back into the game.

“They did a good job defensing us,” London said. “We have to make sure we find ways to keep moving the ball.”

The Blue Devils scored 14 unanswered in the game’s final frame and were six yards from scoring what could have been the game-tying touchdown.

Boehme was responsible for both fourth-quarter touchdowns. He threw a 12-yard pass to freshman wide receiver T.J. Rahming to finish a seven-play, 69-yard drive. The Jacksonville Beach, Florida native then punched the ball in from the goal line.

“The game wasn’t over,” Mike Moore said. “You got to make sure everyone realized that you got to keep playing until the clock says ‘zero zero.’”

With 54 seconds left on the clock, Duke took possession on their own 37. On the first play, Boehme uncorked a 49-yard completion to junior Anthony Nash. After an incompletion, Boehme completed another pass to set up third down and two. With their backs to the wall, the Cavalier defense forced two incompletions to give the ball back to the offense, who salted the game away with a kneel down.

Virginia will play the final game of their season next Saturday at home against in-state rival Virginia Tech.

“Now we have an opportunity to win another game, the last game, against a very good football [team] that is looking for their opportunities as well,” London said. “We’ll enjoy this today and tonight but go to work tomorrow.”

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