Virginia football fell to NC State Saturday afternoon 38-21. The Wolfpack (3-1, 3-1 ACC) got out to an early 24-0 lead off of stellar quarterback play from sophomore Devin Leary, and while the Cavaliers (1-2, 1-2 ACC) mounted a late surge, it wasn’t enough to overcome the early deficit. Turnovers and penalties plagued Virginia, as the Cavaliers had four turnovers and seven penalties totaling 81 yards.
“We started very slow — I thought that both teams were evenly matched but we had four turnovers,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Lots of things can be improved … and we weren’t as far along as I anticipated.”
The two teams traded quick three-and-outs to start, as the ACC foes failed to get anything going on offense. On the ensuing possession, the Wolfpack were able to penetrate the Cavalier secondary with some key passes, with sophomore quarterback Devin Leary throwing a 34 yard dart to freshman wide receiver Porter Rooks that was initially called a touchdown. Nonetheless, the call was reversed and Wolfpack junior kicker Christopher Dunn missed a 51-yard field goal to keep the teams scoreless.
After an errant throw by sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong was intercepted by redshirt freshman cornerback Shyheim Battle, NC State had yet another chance to put points on the board. This time, the Wolfpack were successful, as Leary connected with sophomore running back Trent Pennix on a swing route to go up seven.
The Cavaliers continued to sputter on both sides of the ball during the first quarter. Defensively, Virginia was unable to get off the field after forcing the Wolfpack into tough third down situations, giving up a 17-yard pass on a third-and-14 late in the first quarter. Two plays later, Leary connected with senior tight end Cary Angeline on a 32-yard pass off of a trick play to extend NC State’s lead to 14.
However, Armstrong started to settle in following the Wolfpack touchdown, connecting with senior wide receiver Terrell Jana and freshman wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. on back-to-back plays to get into NC State territory. After getting the Wolfpack to jump offsides on consecutive plays, the Cavaliers were able to march down to the one-yard line, but were stuffed on third and fourth down to end the drive empty-handed.
While Virginia was able to stop the Wolfpack, Armstrong threw a pass on the Cavaliers’ ensuing drive that sailed over junior wide receiver Billy Kemp and into NC State hands. Although the Cavalier defense held strong, Dunn knocked in a 36 yard field goal to put the Wolfpack up 17-0 with 5:49 left in the first half.
“I think we just got out of our rhythm and we don’t do what we know to do, we don’t make those basic easy plays that we do in practice,” senior quarterback Lindell Stone said on the slow start.
As Virginia looked to put their first points on the board, Armstrong went to his legs to make a play. However, as the Ohio native ran out of bounds, he was hit in the head by junior safety Tanner Ingle, who was disqualified for targeting. After being evaluated for a head injury, Armstrong would be replaced by Stone. Stone immediately got in rhythm with the offense, leading the Cavaliers on a nine play, 75-yard march to the endzone just his second drive under center.
Virginia headed into halftime down 24-7, but certainly encouraged by the play from Stone.
“Lindell brings poise, maturity, clarity… he just sees the field like a coach,” Mendenhall said.
The Texas native put up 83 yards passing and one touchdown across two drives, serving as the only bright spot of a half that saw NC State rack up 239 yards of total offense and force two turnovers.
Nonetheless, Stone struggled to get the Cavaliers going in the second half as the Wolfpack honed in on Virginia’s slant and flat routes. NC State similarly struggled on offense, as the start of the second-half was highlighted by strong defensive plays in a punt block by the Wolfpack and a subsequent interception in the end zone by Cavalier safety De’Vante Cross.
Virginia seemed to be getting into a rhythm two possessions later, getting two bursts on the ground from senior running back Shane Simpson. However, on the second rushing play, Simpson fumbled the ball for the Cavaliers’ third turnover of the afternoon as the Wolfpack once again looked to run away with the game.
Nevertheless, the Virginia defense held strong, and on the Cavaliers’ following possession, Stone led them on a 97-yard drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown pass from Stone to senior tight end Tony Poljan — chipping away at the Wolfpack lead.
Despite stopping NC State on its next drive, Virginia was unable to make any headway. After a missed Wolfpack field goal, the Cavaliers had yet another chance to drive down the field. However, on the first play of the drive, Stone’s pass was tipped and secured by NC State junior defensive tackle Alim McNeill, who rumbled into the endzone to restore a 17-point Wolfpack lead.
“The tipped interception put us in a desperate situation,” Stone said.
On the ensuing drive, the Cavaliers were able to edge closer by way of an 89-yard drive ending in a touchdown pass from Stone to Davis Jr. with 6:08 to play, restoring a 10-point deficit. However, it was too little too late, as while Virginia was able to stop the NC State offense, the Cavaliers sputtered on their offensive possession. NC State would use a failed Virginia fourth-down conversion to pad its lead off of a touchdown run by sophomore running back Zonovan Knight as the Wolfpack took down the Cavaliers 38-21.
In a game that was expected to be a close one, Virginia ended up playing catch-up with NC State all afternoon. Stone was solid in relief for the injured Armstrong, passing for 239 yards and three touchdowns, but the Wolfpack kept pace and outlasted the Cavaliers. Defensively, Virginia let Leary pick its secondary apart in the first-half, allowing for a generally unassuming NC State rushing attack to impress in the second-half.
“We’re certainly learning [how] to sustain start to end clean football, competitive football and effective football to get the outcome we want,” Mendenhall said.
For the third time in four games, Virginia will face a North Carolina school, as the Cavaliers take on Wake Forest next Saturday. Kick-off is set for 4 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on the ACC Network.