In its third and final game of the current homestand, Virginia had no problem defeating Abilene Christian, pulling off a 55-15 win. Both offenses got off to a slow start, but the Cavaliers (4-4, 3-4 ACC) eventually pulled away from the Wildcats (1-5, 0-0 Southland) to get to a .500 winning percentage for the season so far.
“We just wanted to be consistent,” sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong said. “We got up and going. I thought we moved the ball well. We tried to share the ball. We put up 55, and I’m happy for our team.”
Prior to the game, Virginia announced that no players or staff members were in isolation or quarantine after their latest round of COVID-19 testing.
Abilene Christian’s short opening kickoff set up Virginia with an excellent starting position at their own 44, but an early offensive rhythm was halted when the Cavaliers turned the ball over on downs at the Wildcats’ 37-yard line.
With star junior quarterback Peyton Mansell scrapped from the starting lineup, the Wildcats’ offense faced questions with freshman Stone Earle taking the helm in his first start. However, Earle did not back down from his moment in the spotlight. He converted a quick third-and-9 to junior wide receiver Kobe Clark to get the Wildcats in an early rhythm. The drive, however, would stall at the Virginia 19-yard line when sophomore linebacker Nick Jackson tipped a pass on fourth down.
Despite forcing a turnover on downs, senior linebacker Charles Snowden was lost for the game after suffering an ankle injury. Following the game, Snowden’s father confirmed that the injury was a broken ankle and that his son would be out for the remainder of the season.
While the offense hoped to take advantage of the key defensive stop, it quickly went three-and-out as senior tight end Tony Poljan could not hold on to a third-down pass from Armstrong.
After punting, the Cavalier defense forced a Wildcat three-and-out, giving Armstrong another opportunity to get the offense rolling. He would do just that, scrambling for a 33-yard gain on the first play of the drive before connecting with junior halfback Billy Kemp IV just two plays later. Two plays after that, Poljan would atone for his mistake on the previous drive, converting a 28-yard pass from Armstrong for the first touchdown of the game.
Down early on the road, Earle was tasked with keeping the game from spiraling out of control. After sneaking into Virginia territory, the Wildcats were stood up by the Cavaliers’ defense and had to punt.
Armstrong and the offense picked up right where they left off, needing one play to double their lead. Armstrong found freshman wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. streaking wide open past the defending safety for a momentum shifting 90-yard touchdown.
Virginia’s defense would force another Wildcat punt, allowing the offense to continue its torrid start. After Abilene Chrisitan forced an important third-and-9 early in the drive, Armstrong evaded a heavy blitz to scramble for a 14-yard gain and keep the drive alive. Eleven plays later, senior running back Shane Simpson would punch his first rushing touchdown of the year from one yard out, to extend the lead to 21.
It appeared Earle made his first freshman mistake on the following drive, as senior defensive back D’Angelo Amos appeared to return a pick-six. However, the referees controversially called a defensive pass interference penalty on Amos and the Wildcats took advantage. Earle then led the offense down the field, finding Clark for a two-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left in the first half.
With the first half seemingly over, Coach Bronco Mendenhall placed his trust in the offense to make something happen within 30 seconds. Armstrong and the unit pulled through, marching 63 yards to the one-yard line with eight seconds left and no timeouts. Electing to take the risk and go for a touchdown, Mendenhall left the offense on the field, and Simpson punched his way into the endzone to regain their 21-point lead going into the half.
The Wildcats could not build on their offensive momentum in the second half, going three-and-out straight out of the gate. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, continued their offensive success. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae reached in his bag of tricks, drawing up a 56-yard pitch-and-catch between Armstrong and junior quarterback Keytaon Thompson
Virginia would get the ball back after an Abilene Christian turnover on downs. Anae dialed up another trick play, with Thompson taking the snap and throwing it back to Armstrong, who launched it deep to senior wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry for a 52-yard touchdown.
With the lead at 35, Mendenhall elected to take his starters out of the game. The teams would exchange punts until senior quarterback Lindell Stone led a 10-minute, 57-second touchdown drive to extend the lead to 42. The Wildcats answered with a late touchdown, before the Cavaliers walked off on a pick-six to seal a 55-15 win for the Cavaliers
After a poor 1-4 start to the season, Mendenhall and the Cavaliers have turned their season around to get back to a .500 winning percentage.
“It means a lot,” Armstrong said, of the recent hot streak. “The start we had was just not what we wanted or thought we were going to have. Getting back to 4-4 and we’re getting ready for the homestretch with our ACC opponents. We’re excited. It’s in our control.”
The team will have an opportunity to extend their winning streak to four games against Florida State Nov. 28 in Tallahassee, Fla. Kick-off time at Doak Campbell Stadium is to be announced.