Virginia football came out with a different edge Saturday night in front of an electric homecoming crowd, beating No. 16 Miami 16-13.
It was the first time since 2014 that the Cavaliers (4-2, 2-1 ACC) beat the Hurricanes (5-2, 2-1 ACC), and Coach Bronco Mendenhall picked up a program-defining win in his third year with Virginia.
“It was really gratifying to see the energy of the crowd,” Mendenhall said. “I think it was the best crowd since I’ve been a coach here… that atmosphere made a difference — it makes a difference. And I sensed maybe a beginning of what this really can be and more and more folks catching on and maybe believing this is for real and that this is going to happen.”
The first half was a defensive battle.
Junior transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins threw an interception on the first drive of the game, but Miami could not capitalize, turning the ball over on downs.
After a series of punts, sophomore safety Joey Blount picked off Miami redshirt freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry. The Cavaliers got their first points of the evening off the interception, converting a field goal to make it 3-0 Virginia.
The ensuing drive resulted in another Miami turnover. This time, senior safety Juan Thornhill came up with the interception, returning the pick 62 yards to the Miami 7-yard line. Virginia capitalized on the turnover again, going up 10-0 on a Jordan Ellis touchdown run.
The rest of the half was sloppy. Miami benched Perry for senior quarterback Malik Rosier, who struggled to move the ball on offense, and Perkins continued to play poorly.
Perkins had three interceptions in the first half, which led to points for the Hurricanes. Miami scored two field goals to bring the score to 10-6 shortly before the half.
Virginia went in to the half on a high note. Cavaliers’ sophomore kicker Brian Delaney converted a 46-yard field goal shortly before halftime to make it 13-6 Cavaliers. It was the longest field goal by a Virginia kicker since 2015.
“I felt like I hit the ball well and it felt good coming off my foot,” Delaney said. “I’d say my range is a little farther than that, but that’s just coming from me.”
The third quarter had the same gritty defensive battle as the first half, with no points scored by either team.
Miami began the half with a 6 minute drive, but came up with no points. The Virginia defense came up with a crucial stand on 4th down, shutting down Miami deep in Cavalier territory.
Virginia started the fourth quarter with another field goal, making it 16-6 Virginia. The Cavaliers took 8:35 off the clock on the scoring drive, giving the Hurricanes little time to come back.
Thornhill came up with his second interception of the night on the subsequent drive, placing Virginia in good position to pull off the upset, even though the Cavaliers struggled to get anything going off the turnover.
Miami led a touchdown drive to make it 16-13, but there were only three minutes left in the game. The Cavaliers recovered the Hurricanes’ onside kick and closed things out.
Virginia managed only 92 yards passing, but gained 139 yards on the ground against a strong Miami defense. A lot of that was due to gritty play from the offensive line, and tough running by senior running back Jordan Ellis.
Ellis finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on the night.
It was an impressive upset victory for Virginia in front of the biggest crowd of the season at Scott Stadium, and it was a sign that this Virginia football team can beat anyone.
“It just woke everybody up and it shows that we have a shot to win this — to win the ACC,” Thornhill said.
The Cavaliers head on the road for their next game, in a clash against Duke. Virginia has struggled this season away from home, and will be in for a tough one against the Blue Devils, who have lost just once this year.
“We can’t let off the gas,” Perkins said. “We have to keep going to Duke and play just how we played tonight with the same aggression. From here on out it’s going to be a competition to see who can take over the ACC. If we come out how we did, besides the turnovers, I think we’ll be in good shape.