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Virginia football escapes Miami on the foot of the Hurricanes' kicker

A game that seemed too close all night came down to razor-thin margins.

<p>Virginia junior defensive back Antonio Clary and senior defensive end Mandy Alonso celebrate after beating Miami Thursday night.</p>

Virginia junior defensive back Antonio Clary and senior defensive end Mandy Alonso celebrate after beating Miami Thursday night.

Virginia has to be familiar with Hard Rock Stadium by now. Due to scheduling aberrations with the COVID-19 pandemic last year, it was the Cavaliers’ (3-2, 1-2 ACC) third straight trip to Miami to take on the Hurricanes. Luckily for Virginia, though, it was able to change the fortunes of the first two losses and finally notch a win against the Hurricanes (2-3, 0-1 ACC) 30-28. A truly incredible game had seemingly every Virginia football fan's experience from the first four weeks rolled into one.

The Cavaliers received the ball first and — while there were a few nice passes to senior wide receiver Keytaon Thompson — their drive stalled out at around midfield with junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong taking a sack. Miami’s first drive didn’t go much better, however, as the Hurricanes quickly punted back to Virginia after a three-and-out.

The third drive provided the first real fireworks, as senior running back Wayne Taulapapa broke free for a 27-yard run. On the very next play, Thompson caught a ball and a high hit from sophomore cornerback Tyrique Stevenson was initially ruled targeting but was later overturned. The Cavaliers did not lose any momentum, though, with Taulapapa eventually finding the end zone to cap off a 10-play drive in which the running game finally seemed to get going for the Cavaliers.

The teams traded punts after Virginia’s touchdown, but the Cavaliers’ proved to be extremely valuable, as graduate student punter Jacob Finn placed the ball at the one-yard line. Backed up in its own end zone, Miami could not escape, resulting in a Virginia safety to push the lead to 9-0. The first quarter ended with the Cavaliers on offense yet again to top off a nearly perfect first segment for Virginia.

Virginia couldn’t pay off the drive, but another good punt by Finn placed the Hurricanes deep in their own territory, where Miami finally got a first down but eventually punted yet again, with the Cavalier defense already surpassing the number of punts forced in the previous two games combined, which has to be a welcome sight for players, coaches and fans alike.

After another punt by the Cavaliers, Miami put together its first productive drive, crossing midfield before freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was sacked by sophomore linebacker Hunter Stewart to send the ball back Virginia’s way. After another short possession by Armstrong and the Virginia offense, the Hurricanes gained their best field position of the night with a strong punt return out to midfield by Stevenson. A long throw by Van Dyke on the first play of the drive set up Miami in the red zone where junior running back Cam’Ron Harris eventually leaped into the end zone to make the score 9-7 Virginia.

With the game suddenly becoming a tight contest, Virginia needed to end the half on a high note, which is exactly what happened. Armstrong orchestrated a beautiful eight-play, 80-yard drive with sophomore running back Mike Hollins scoring on a well-blocked 25-yard touchdown as the half wrapped up with the Cavaliers holding a 16-7 lead.

The second half started in a very similar fashion to the first, with Miami’s offensive struggles continuing, resulting in another punt. The Hurricanes defense did manage to hold the Cavaliers to just a field goal after a short punt, however, with Virginia sophomore kicker Brendan Farrell pushing the lead to 19-7.

After yet another punt from Miami, Virginia’s first offensive mistake came at a critical time. Armstrong threw an interception right to freshman linebacker Corey Flagg, Jr., who promptly returned the ball inside Virginia’s 20-yard line. Taking advantage of the short field, Van Dyke threw for his first touchdown of the night, completing a pass to senior wide receiver Mike Harley to cut the deficit to just five points. As was the case all night, the Cavaliers were in a spot where it felt like they should be up by more points than the score actually indicated.

The next drive for Virginia was pivotal, as the Cavaliers needed to both extend the lead and quiet the raucous Miami crowd, and that is exactly what they did. After another strong rush by Taulapapa, Armstrong threw what seemed to be a prayer to the end zone that sophomore wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks somehow caught on his back after a series of caroms. Words do not do the catch justice, as it may have been the catch of the year in all of college football. After Taulapapa pushed his way through for the two point conversion, Virginia was suddenly back up 27-14.

After another set of punts, Miami finally seemed to find its rhythm on offense, with Van Dyke completing four straight passes before Harris blew by the Cavalier defense for the first explosive play of the day for the Hurricanes. The third quarter ended with Virginia with the ball in Miami territory yet again, pushing to extend the lead once more. 

As the fourth quarter began, Virginia suffered a couple of mistakes that had the Cavaliers settling for three points as opposed to seven. First, Thompson dropped a pass when he was wide open in the end zone, and then two plays later, Armstrong overthrew senior wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry for what could have been a touchdown. Still, the Cavaliers were able to push the lead to two possessions in a game where every drive felt critically important.

Miami was not done yet, however. On the next possession, the Hurricanes cut up a Virginia defense that seemed to be returning back to its form of the previous two weeks. On a single drive alone, the Cavaliers allowed plays of 45 and 24 yards, culminating with a Van Dyke rushing touchdown to pull Miami within two points for the first time since the score was 9-7. After another Virginia punt — its seventh of the night — the Hurricanes had the ball with a chance to take the lead.

Miami had the perfect plan. A 14-play, 75 yard drive took all but two seconds off the clock. Multiple third downs were converted by the Hurricanes, and Miami had the ability to place the ball exactly where it wanted for freshman kicker Andres Borregales. It seemed as if Virginia, who had outgained Miami by 77 yards, kept the ball for nearly 35 minutes on offense, and converted nearly twice as many third downs, would find a way to lose. All Coach Bronco Mendenhall could do was watch as the Borregales kicked the ball. Then the ball made the sound no kicker ever wants to hear, bouncing off the left upright to give Virginia the 30-28 win. In the most dramatic of fashions, the Cavaliers notched their first win in league play, and the Hurricanes suffered yet another loss in what feels like a bygone season. 

When asked about Wicks’ touchdown catch, Mendenhall answered with a quote that encapsulated the entire game. 

“What a miraculous play,” Mendenhall said.

After nine days off, the Cavaliers will travel next to Louisville to play the Cardinals on October 9. Kickoff is set for either 3 or 3:30 p.m., and the channel is to be determined.


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