Virginia completed a feat Saturday night it had not done in a decade — win four consecutive conference games. The Cavaliers (6-2, 4-2 ACC) put on an offensive clinic to defeat visiting Georgia Tech 48-40. Virginia fell behind by two touchdowns early but rallied to outscore the Yellow Jackets (3-4, 2-3 ACC) and survive a late scare.
“It’s hard to win,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “It’s hard to win ACC games in a row. It’s hard to win on the road. It’s hard to win at home. It’s hard to keep winning. And maybe that’s why it hasn’t been done since 2011. I’m proud of our team.”
Georgia Tech elected to start the contest on offense, and the Yellow Jackets proceeded to march down the field with a 36-yard touchdown from freshman quarterback Jeff Sims to senior wide receiver Kyric McGowan capping off a five-play drive. Georgia Tech continued its solid start by forcing a red-hot Cavalier offense to go three-and-out on its opening drive.
After a roughing-the-passer penalty wiped out an interception in the endzone from senior free safety Joey Blount, Yellow Jacket sophomore running back Dontae Smith punched in a short touchdown. However, senior kicker Brent Cimaglia had his extra point blocked by senior outside linebacker Noah Taylor, keeping the score at 13-0 and injecting much-needed life into the 45,837 fans at Scott Stadium.
Virginia answered the bell on offense this time, putting together an impressive nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong found a rhythm on the possession, completing five passes, the last of which went to senior wide receiver Billy Kemp for a one-yard score.
Georgia Tech converted a short field goal on its next drive, but the Cavaliers continued the momentum on offense, as a 45-yard run from Armstrong set up a throw to sophomore wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks in the endzone to bring Virginia within two points with 9:51 left in the first half
On the Yellow Jackets’ next possession, a Sims pass found the hands of Blount for a second time, but this time with no penalties on the field, giving the Cavaliers the ball inside their own 20-yard line on the game’s first turnover. It did not take long for Virginia to find the endzone, as Armstrong found Wicks on an electrifying 77-yard catch and run to give the Cavaliers their first lead of the game.
The half’s scoring closed on a 24-yard field goal from Virginia sophomore kicker Brendan Farrell with 1:23 remaining, giving the Cavaliers a 24-16 advantage heading into the break. Wicks was the star of the opening half, corralling five catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns while providing a spark to a Virginia offense that did not punt after its opening drive.
The Cavaliers started the second half with the ball, and after a 14-yard sack on the drive’s first play, Armstrong led Virginia down the field before settling for another short field goal from Farrell. Georgia Tech put an emphatic end to the Cavaliers’ 20 unanswered points on a 71-yard touchdown run from freshman running back Jahmyr Gibbs and an ensuing two-point conversion to trim Virginia’s lead to 27-24.
The Cavaliers responded with two impressive drives of their own, methodically picking apart the Yellow Jackets’ defense en route to a pair of strong touchdown runs from Armstong, extending Virginia’s advantage to 41-24 as the third quarter came to a close. On the first of the two drives, Virginia got 15 free yards on the drive when freshman defensive lineman Stone Akelo was ejected for a hit to the head on Kemp.
The Cavaliers put an exclamation on their offensive performance when Armstrong found senior wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry on a beautiful 20-yard touchdown strike with 3:50 remaining. However, Georgia Tech made fans in Scott Stadium nervous by scoring two late touchdowns and recovering its second onside kick within a minute to set up a potential game-tying drive. Blount came through once again though on the last play of the game, batting down Sims’ hail mary attempt as time expired.
“I’d love to recover the onside kicks.” Mendenhall said. “They executed super well, and 48-27 would have been better, but give them credit.”
Armstrong bolstered his already strong case for ACC Player of the Year Saturday night, generating nearly 500 yards of total offense and six total touchdowns — four through the air and two on the ground — leading Virginia to a season-high 636 yards. Wicks finished with 168 receiving yards, and senior wide receiver Keytaon Thompson finished the game with over 150 total yards.
“It’s so fun [to play in this offense],” Thompson said. “Any play can go to anyone. We have a lot of guys who can make plays. It’s especially fun for me playing in different positions and fitting in when I can.”
Blount and senior cornerback Nick Grant led the way on defense with eight total tackles. Blount also had a pass break-up on the game’s final play and the key interception that proved to be the game’s turning point. It was after Blount’s interception when the Cavaliers began to impose their will on the Yellow Jackets.
With the win, Virginia maintains its hold of second place in the ACC Coastal Division behind an undefeated Pittsburgh team that just picked up a big win against Clemson. If the Cavaliers are to earn a spot to the conference title game, they will almost certainly need to win their remaining conference games against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech and hope that the Panthers drop another game against an ACC opponent.
Virginia now prepares to travel out west to face BYU in a cross-country non-conference matchup against Mendenhall’s former team. Kick-off is set for a rather late 10:15 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN2.