MULAY: A weekend of resilience

A comeback story and a comeback win show where men’s basketball and football align

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After a lackluster first half, senior quarterback Bryce Perkins was 17-20 in the second half with one touchdown — a performance that earned him the honors of breaking the rock.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

One day after the men’s basketball team celebrated a resilient national championship run, Virginia football had similar resolve in a dramatic victory over an ACC foe. 

Friday night, thousands flocked to John Paul Jones Arena for ‘A Night with the National Champions’ — a tribute event to the 2018-19 NCAA Division I National Champion Cavaliers.

Saturday night, over 57,000 fans witnessed the football team do the same thing Kyle Guy and company did last April — face late-game adversity, remain poised under pressure and make the necessary plays to win. 

For Virginia basketball, the special event at JPJ refreshed memories of the Cavaliers’ late-game heroics in their last three games of the NCAA Tournament. Virginia’s ability to erase fourth-quarter deficits in each of those games — in addition to its ability to bounce back from a historic first-round loss in 2018 — is a testament to the Cavaliers’ strength.

“The message of resiliency and just bouncing back and fighting through and being formed by the blow which tried to cut you down,” men’s basketball Coach Tony Bennett said. “I think a lot of people remember that.”

The Seven Society echoed Bennett in a letter read by Virginia Athletics Director Carla Williams, emphasizing that the Cavaliers’ national title win was just the destination of their long trek to the top.

“What defined your success was not the final seconds of a game in April, but your journey was much longer,” Williams read. “[It was] founded upon tenacity and resilience, as you accomplished the most extraordinary turnaround in college basketball history.”

While Virginia football may not have won a national championship, the Cavaliers recorded a big win against Florida State this weekend after falling behind by one touchdown two times in the second half.

Despite setbacks like a missed extra point, untimely turnovers and unnecessary penalties, senior quarterback Bryce Perkins and the Cavaliers kept pushing, play after play and drive after drive.

When the Cavaliers desperately needed points, they scored touchdowns on three straight drives. When they needed to convert a two-point attempt, Perkins dodged multiple defenders and tiptoed into the endzone. Most importantly, when Virginia needed a defensive stand on the last play of the game, the team stopped junior running back Cam Akers — one of the top backs in the country — dead in his tracks on the four-yard line.

The Cavaliers had plenty of opportunities to collapse and crumble under the pressure against the Seminoles. Instead, they stayed strong and excelled in front of the biggest Scott Stadium crowd since 2015. 

“Resilience — that’s who we are as a program,” junior wide receiver Terrell Jana said. “It’s fitting. We knew it was going to go to the last play, last quarter.”

Last season, Virginia football lost every game when trailing at halftime and lost three games by a single possession. Although the year is still young, the Cavaliers are already 2-0 in games where they were losing after one half and proved Saturday night that they can beat good opponents in close, one-score contests. 

Regardless of what Virginia football accomplishes this season, the team’s willpower in the early going is evident. The culture of Mendenhall’s team has significant parallels with the 2018-19 Virginia men’s basketball team. It starts with the individual players.

“The group of guys we had was really just a lot of high character guys,” Guy said of the national championship squad. “Yeah we had our haters, but at the end of the day a lot of people respected us as people more than players.”

The 2019 Virginia football team and the 2018-19 men’s basketball team are known for their character, defense and resilience. These qualities took the Cavaliers to the top of men’s basketball last spring. They have allowed Virginia football to win every game this year, no matter the challenge or deficit. The resilient Cavaliers are ready to do whatever it takes to break the rock.

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