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Football dominates Louisville, 27-3

Cavaliers open conference play with strong win

<p>Sophomore outside linebacker Charles Snowden had an interception, a fumble recovery, a sack and eight tackles in Virginia's win Saturday.</p>

Sophomore outside linebacker Charles Snowden had an interception, a fumble recovery, a sack and eight tackles in Virginia's win Saturday.

In its first weekend of ACC play, Virginia football rolled past Louisville with a 27-3 win, which marked the first time since 2010 that the Cardinals (2-2, 0-1 ACC) didn’t score a touchdown in a regular season game.  

“I was really proud of my team today,” Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Defense carried the beginning of the game, creating scoring opportunities, which then eventually were leveraged into touchdowns — not in the first half, but eventually we started to kind of handle sudden change a little better offensively. Touchdowns started to manifest, and then we played all the way through the end … It was a clean finish, and that’s not easy to do.”

The last time these two teams squared off in Scott Stadium, Louisville came away with a narrow win after getting a touchdown with less than a minute left in the game. This year, the game had a different outcome. 

“I remember the last play and the frustration I felt in year one just trying to get the program — even one wheel on the rails — just going somewhere in the right direction,” Mendenhall said of the 2016 contest. “Today, it was not perfect, but it was 27-3 in our opening ACC game at home. There was a confidence when my team arrived in our locker room, in our stadium … They’re becoming more resilient and more confident.” 

The game started off with a scoreless first quarter as Virginia's (3-1, 1-0 ACC) defense held Louisville to just 19 passing yards and 20 rushing yards. The Cavaliers also struggled to get their running game established, and had only 15 rushing yards in the first 15 minutes of action. Virginia had a chance to get on the scoreboard in their first drive of the game, but sophomore kicker A.J. Mejia was wide right on his field goal attempt. 

The Cavaliers broke the tie with 10:46 to go in the second quarter when freshman kicker Hunter Pearson converted a 28-yard field goal. Prior to Pearson's field goal, sophomore outside linebacker Charles Snowden intercepted Louisville redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Cunningham's pass and returned the ball to the Cardinals 32-yard line. After picking up 22 yards, the Cavaliers finished the drive with Pearson's field goal to get a 3-0 lead. 

“We had gone over their route combinations all week, so I had a good idea of what they were going to do,” Snowden said of his first career interception. “The quarterback threw the ball, I got a good break and — since I’ve been blessed with long arms — I could go out there and grab it.”

Later in the quarter, Pearson added another three points to Virginia's lead with a 24-yard field goal. The field goal finished off a drive that saw freshman quarterback Brennan Armstrong get playing time for the second time this season. Armstrong had a crucial 34-yard run in the drive that brought the Cavaliers to Louisville's 11-yard line. 

In the second half, after Louisville collected the ball on an interception, the Cardinals got their first points of the game with a 20-yard field goal. The Cardinals were as close to the end zone as Virginia's two-yard line, but the Cavaliers' defense forced them to settle for a field goal. 

“That was huge,” Snowden said. “I think that really defined our defense. Last week versus Ohio, any time we had turnovers we gave up big plays. We really emphasized that this week. So to have a sudden change like that versus Louisville really showed our growth as a team. I can still vividly see Zane smacking that dude on third down. It is ingrained in my memory. It really meant a lot to the coaches and the whole team.”

The Cavaliers followed up the play with an impressive drive that showcased Perkins’s athleticism. The Virginia quarterback took a draw play 36 yards into the red zone, hurdling over a Louisville player at the end of the run. Perkins then finished off the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to junior tailback Chris Sharp. 

“You know, Bryce is an amazing athlete, not just a quarterback, he’s an athlete,” Sharp said. “He is still sometimes surprising me. With his hurdles today, I was telling him ‘you got a lot of height on those.’ It’s exciting watching him play. It’s exciting playing with him. And overall it’s a great experience.”

With under five minutes to go in the third quarter, Virginia junior cornerback Bryce Hall had an interception to end a promising Louisville drive and keep the score 13-3 going into the final quarter of the game.

The Cavaliers added to their lead in the fourth quarter when Perkins found junior wide receiver Joe Reed in the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown pass, bringing the score to 20-3. Later in the quarter, Snowden recovered a Louisville fumble to give the Cavaliers solid field position. A few plays after the fumble, Perkins hurdled yet another player to jump into the end zone for a touchdown. 

Virginia finished the game with 401 offensive yards off of 197 passing yards and 204 rushing yards in the 27-3 win. The Cavalier defense had a strong showing, holding Louisville to just 66 rushing yards, as they kept the Cardinals from scoring a touchdown. Snowden was particularly impressive in the win, with an interception, fumble recovery, sack and eight tackles. 

The Cavaliers will now prepare for their matchup against N.C. State this upcoming Saturday. The road game is set for a 12:20 p.m. kickoff.