Virginia (8-5) beat South Carolina (7-6) in dominant fashion, 28-0, winning the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. After heartbreaking defeats the last two weeks, the Cavaliers played with a chip on their shoulder and shut out an SEC opponent with an incredible display on offense and defense.
It was Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first win in a bowl game, and the Cavaliers’ first win in a bowl game since 2005. The Cavaliers’ win marks yet another leap for Coach Mendenhall’s New Standard.
Virginia has had historical success in this bowl game. The Cavaliers won the inaugural bowl game played in Charlotte — then called the Continental Tire Bowl — in 2002 and won again in 2003. This was their first time back in Charlotte since, and the result was the same. The win made the Cavaliers the only three-time Belk Bowl champion.
Virginia had a dominant first half, behind long, drawn-out possessions and great defense.
South Carolina started the game with the ball. The Gamecocks struggled to move the football, and the Cavaliers came up with a critical stop on 4th down to get the football.
Despite good field position, Virginia couldn’t move the ball, but South Carolina couldn’t capitalize once they regained possession, going three-and-out.
Virginia scored first on an impressive 77-yard scoring drive.
Three passes to senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and a couple of hard-nosed runs by senior running back Jordan Ellis put Virginia in the red zone, and junior transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins found Zaccheaus in the endzone for a score. Zaccheaus had an outstanding first half, with eight receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown.
South Carolina managed to put together a decent drive to respond, but missed a 45-yard field goal and the score remained 7-0 Cavaliers.
The Gamecocks’ junior quarterback, Jake Bentley, struggled in the first half. Bentley, South Carolina’s main offensive threat this year, was just 10/18 with 104 yards passing in the first frame, stymied by Virginia’s talented secondary. Junior cornerback Bryce Hall was outstanding, as was senior safety Juan Thornhill.
Virginia extended its lead to 14-0 with another long scoring drive, punctuated by a 9-yard Ellis touchdown run.
The 90-yard drive lasted 8:10, showing the Cavaliers’ capability to move the ball while taking time off the clock. Ellis had 28 of his 58 first half rushing yards on the drive, and Virginia exhausted the Gamecocks’ defense by running the ball up the gut towards the end of the drive.
South Carolina got the ball back with just 42 seconds, and failed to put any points on the board. Bentley completed his longest pass of the first half, 31 yards, but a holding penalty and a sack by senior linebacker Chris Peace kept the Gamecocks scoreless and sent Virginia into the break up 14-0.
The Cavaliers started with the ball after halftime but couldn’t get anything going until their second drive of the half.
With great field position resulting from great defense, Virginia went up 21-0 as Perkins connected with Zaccheaus for the second time on the day. It was a 10-yard touchdown pass.
South Carolina’s highly-touted offense finally came alive late in the third quarter with a 23-yard and 37-yard pass from Bentley. Virginia’s incredible defense, however, came up with another huge stop as the Gamecocks threatened to score. South Carolina chose to go for it on 4th and goal from the 11, and they were shut down.
Virginia was driving well, but turned the ball over to start the fourth quarter. Perkins passed the ball to wide open junior wide receiver Hasise Dubois, and Dubois ran into space before fumbling the ball just into South Carolina territory.
What could have been a momentum-shifter for the Gamecocks was made meaningless just three plays later as Bentley was picked off by Juan Thornhill, who returned the interception 54 yards to the South Carolina 21.
It was Thornhill’s team-leading sixth interception of the season.
The Cavaliers, however, failed to capitalize on the good field position. Sophomore kicker Brian Delaney missed a 33-yard field goal.
Virginia’s secondary continued to shut down Bentley, and the Cavaliers got the ball back. Perkins calmly led yet another scoring drive, and Zaccheaus finished it off with his third touchdown of the day, making it 28-0.
Perkins showed his athleticism on the play, backing out of a crowded pocket and slinging it while falling back to Zaccheaus in a tight window.
South Carolina appeared to be closing in on its first score midway through the fourth quarter, but Virginia’s defense again had the answer. This time, it was sixth-year senior cornerback Tim Harris coming up with the interception in his last game in a Virginia uniform.
The Cavaliers closed the game out by running the football, which they did well all day.
They finished with 205 total rushing yards — Ellis had 106 and Perkins had 81 — and used their run game to dominate time of possession, a battle they won 42:35 to 17:25. The Gamecocks had just 43 total rushing yards.
Virginia’s shutout victory marked the first time since 2006 that South Carolina has been held scoreless. The Cavaliers’ defense held South Carolina’s offense — which gained 600 total yards against Clemson — to just 261 total yards. Bentley, the star of South Carolina’s offense and a legitimate pro prospect, had a 42.5% completion percentage, his lowest of the season. The Cavaliers’ secondary, strong throughout the year, stepped up again in the bowl game.
The Cavaliers’ offensive performance was also outstanding. They were led by Perkins, Ellis and Zaccheaus, who tied a Belk Bowl record with three receiving touchdowns. Virginia’s all-time leader in receptions was also named Belk Bowl MVP. He finished with 12 receptions for 100 yards receiving.
It was a redemptive end to Coach Mendenhall’s third year, and the seniors played outstanding football on their last game in a Virginia uniform.
Despite losing some great talent, the future looks bright for this football team, and Virginia is poised for another great year in 2019.