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ANDERSON: Five takeaways from Virginia sports for the Oct. 30-Nov. 1 weekend

Halloween weekend brought good fortune for Virginia sports as a whole

<p>Virginia football's performance against North Carolina Saturday was the best the offense has played in the past two years.&nbsp;</p>

Virginia football's performance against North Carolina Saturday was the best the offense has played in the past two years. 

Many of Virginia’s teams finished the month of October on a promising note. Men’s soccer, women’s soccer and football all won, while cross-country finished its fall season with a strong showing. Field hockey and volleyball both lost, but the first winter sport to begin competition — swimming and diving — started off strong with a win. Here are a few takeaways from a relatively successful weekend for Virginia sports. 

Men’s cross-country will return an experienced core next year

The NCAA may have postponed all fall championships until the spring, but that has not stopped the ACC from holding conference championships this season. Virginia’s cross-country runners competed in theirs Friday. The men’s team finished fourth, with a particularly strong race from senior Rohann Asfaw, who finished fourth overall. Freshman Wes Porter also had a notable day, finishing with a personal best of 23:45.3. The race painted a bright picture for next year. Out of Virginia’s top seven runners, only one — Randy Neish — is graduating. In addition, four of the seven are freshmen, which makes the future for the program even more exciting. Look for the Cavaliers to be a force to be reckoned with in the 2021 season.

Senior Hannah Moran finishes breakout year strong for women’s cross-country

Virginia women’s cross-country also ran Friday, finishing seventh overall in the team standings. The biggest story, however, was Moran’s incredible day. She was the only competitor on the women’s side for the Cavaliers to earn All-ACC honors — a fitting end to what was a breakout season for the runner from Salem, Va. Moran was consistently one of the top runners for Virginia throughout the fall, and she had a great race again in the ACC Championships, placing 18th overall. Her time of 20:39.4 was over 90 seconds better than what she ran at last year’s championship, which is an amazing feat. Everyone should look forward to seeing Moran run again next year.

Virginia football’s offense had its best performance in an ACC game in two seasons

The Cavaliers won a tense, high-scoring game Saturday, beating North Carolina 44-41. Virginia had built up a 21-point lead in the third quarter, only to see it dwindle to three before holding on for the win. The entire offensive side of the ball had a fantastic night, especially to close things out. In fact, this was the best Virginia has played on offense in the past two years. Bryce Perkins was fantastic for the Cavaliers in 2019, but he was basically Virginia’s entire offense. In this game, however, the Cavaliers were much more offensively diverse. Besides one ill-advised interception, sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong had a terrific night, throwing for three touchdowns and adding another score on the ground. In addition, the running game had strong variety, with three different runners scoring. This Virginia offense may not have the playmakers of last year’s team, but it is certainly a well-rounded machine that had a breakout game against the Tar Heels.

The secondary of Virginia football desperately needs its starters back 

Despite all of the offensive firepower the Cavaliers brought Saturday, the game remained close into the final minutes. This was due to the Achilles heel of this season’s defense — long passes. North Carolina sophomore quarterback Sam Howell went 23-28 with four touchdowns in the loss. Producing those kinds of numbers and still losing the game is mind-boggling. One part of why Howell played so well simply because he’s a good quarterback, but the more obvious answer is Virginia’s defensive backs. With three starters out in the secondary, an already-subpar unit was vulnerable — and it showed. Howell was consistently able to connect on long passing plays, with the team’s very first drive ending in a 54-yard touchdown pass. If not for the Cavaliers’ front seven holding the Tar Heel running game in check, this game could have easily gone the other way. Virginia critically needs senior safeties Brenton Nelson and Joey Blount to come back soon and strengthen the back end of the Cavaliers’ defense.

Virginia swimming and diving looked every bit as good as advertised

As cross country finished its season, swimming and diving started its own Saturday. Both the men’s and women’s teams were highly ranked coming into the year, with the women’s side ranked the best in the country. Neither team disappointed, with each posting a dominant win over Navy in Annapolis, Md. In 75 percent of the dual meet’s events, the Cavaliers posted the fastest time, which is exactly what should happen when the teams are ranked No. 1 and No. 13. One group to watch in particular is Virginia’s freshman class. On the women’s side, Alex Walsh posted three wins overall — two individual and one relay — while Abby Harter picked up two wins of her own in the first collegiate meet for the Cavaliers. Over on the men’s team, freshman Matt Brownstead was victorious in two meets of his own — the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. Like the men’s cross-country team, swimming and diving has a lot of exciting young talent in the pool this year.

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