After starting the season with a win, Virginia football dropped its third straight game at Wake Forest, 40-23. The Cavaliers (1-3, 1-3 ACC) started slow, yet picked up the pace midway through, only to let the Demon Deacons (2-2, 1-2 ACC) slip away in the fourth quarter.
One of the biggest question marks coming into the game was how new starting quarterback junior Lindell Stone would step up given sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s absence due to a concussion injury. The Cavaliers went run heavy, utilizing a three-quarterback attack that worked until they fell behind and were forced to throw the ball.
After starting slow in their first three games, Virginia wasn’t able to break the trend against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons opened the scoring with a six-play, 75-yard drive, finding the endzone in less than two minutes. Wake Forest sophomore wide receiver A.T. Perry beat senior safety Joey Blount down the seam, and sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman connected for the 40-yard score.
Starting backed up on their own 13-yard line, Virginia could not match the Demon Deacons’ early offensive success. Stone, making his first career start, missed senior wide receiver Terell Jana on an early third down, and the Cavaliers went three-and-out.
The Wake Forest offense did not wait to strike again, needing only two plays to find the endzone on their next drive. Hartman faked the Cavalier defense on a run-pass option, completing a 49-yard pitch and catch, before sophomore running back Kenneth Walker III punched the ball in for a three-yard rushing touchdown.
Despite the rough start, the Cavalier offense managed to find some success, marching 61 yards down the field before securing a 32-yard field goal. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae mixed in three quarterbacks on the drive, with freshman Ira Armstead and junior Keytaon Thompson — who rushed for a critical 19 yards on a third down — seeing the field along with Stone.
“I thought they gave us the best chance to move the football and lead our team,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the idea to use a three-quarterback system. “We tried to innovate.”
After the Cavalier defense made its first stop of the game, forcing Wake Forest to punt, the offense capitalized on the opportunity. The team increased the tempo on an 11-play, 73-yard drive, with the aforementioned three-headed monster at quarterback combining for 49 rushing yards. Armstead capped off the series with a four-yard run on a read option to secure Virginia’s first touchdown of the game.
However, the Demon Deacons did not flinch, continuing their hot offensive start. Hartman marched Wake Forest down to the Virginia nine-yard line, completing a risky fourth-and-7 pass past senior free safety De’Vante Cross along the way. However, Cross stepped up on third-and-goal, swatting a pass on a near identical play and forcing a field goal, which junior kicker Nick Sciba converted.
After both teams exchanged field goal drives in the following possessions, junior tailback Wayne Taulapapa bounced a 15-yard touchdown run, finishing off a game-tying touchdown drive with 1:49 remaining in the first half. Wake Forest failed to score on its next drive, sending the game into halftime tied 20-20.
The Cavalier offense missed an opportunity to build momentum at the beginning of the second half, punting in their first two possessions. However, the Virginia defense finally established a solid pass rush with junior linebacker Noah Taylor sacking Hartman and forcing a fumble on Wake Forest’s first drive of the half before sophomore defensive tackle Jowon Briggs sacked Hartman on third down the following drive.
Virginia seemed to resolve their offensive woes in their next drive, mixing a variety of passes with a running game. Stone led the Cavaliers to a first-and-10 from the Wake Forest 17, but the drive stalled there and Virginia was forced to attempt a field goal. Senior kicker Brian Delaney, who connected on his first two tries, missed the 36-yarder, leaving the score tied at 20-20.
On the next drive, the Cavaliers once again seemed to thwart the Wake Forest offensive attack, forcing a third-and-16 situation from the Wake Forest 33. However, Virginia lost pocket containment, and Hartman broke free for a 20-yard scramble, which eventually helped set up a 38-yard field goal by Sciba.
Once again, Virginia managed to produce a solid drive deep into Wake Forest territory but could not finish it in a touchdown. After an unsportsmanlike penalty backed them up, Delaney faced a potential game-tying 42-yard field goal. He drained the kick to tie the score at 23.
The tied game was short lived, however, as Walker III — who had been stifled by the Virginia front seven to the tune of 31 yards in the first three quarters — exploded for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Demon Deacons a 30-23 lead with 13:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With the game seemingly slipping out of hand for the Cavaliers, the offense needed to put points on the board. However, Stone and the rest of the unit never got the opportunity, as a short Wake Forest kick caused confusion for the Virginia return team and the Demon Deacons recovered a fumble on the Virginia 28-yard line.
Wake Forest wasted no time in taking advantage of its best field position of the day, as the team needed just four plays to set up yet another rushing touchdown from Walker III, his third of the day. Virginia threw an interception on the following drive, and never provided a response.
The game ended with a scoreline of 40-23 in Wake Forest’s favor. While Virginia was able to recover from a slow start, the Demon Deacons used a 17-point fourth quarter to secure the victory. The Cavaliers tried to keep the game competitive throughout, but a slew of errors foiled their attempt.
Stone threw for 193 yards and Virginia rushed for over 200 yards as a team, but Wake Forest — behind Hartman’s 309 passing yards and Walker III’s 128 rushing yards — was just too much.
Virginia will next travel down to Miami Gardens, Fla. to play Miami Oct. 24. The Cavaliers will try to avoid their fourth-straight loss. The game will be broadcasted on ACC Network and kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
“A running play goes out the gate for a touchdown,” Mendenhall said of the Cavaliers’ finish. “Immediately following we muff a kickoff and then an interception … those plays back to back to back changed the outcome.”