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Virginia pulls off miraculous comeback, downs Louisville 34-33 on the road

The Cavaliers scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to roar back from a 17-point deficit

<p>Virginia junior tight end Grant Misch celebrates after scoring the game-winning touchdown with less than 30 seconds remaining against Louisville Saturday afternoon.</p>

Virginia junior tight end Grant Misch celebrates after scoring the game-winning touchdown with less than 30 seconds remaining against Louisville Saturday afternoon.

After entering the fourth quarter down 30-13, Virginia stormed back to beat Louisville 34-33 Saturday afternoon in what will go down as one of the most improbable wins during Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure in Charlottesville. For the second time in as many weeks, the Cavaliers (4-2, 2-2 ACC) benefitted from a missed field goal with time expiring to escape with a conference road victory, this time against the Cardinals (3-3, 1-2 ACC).

Virginina opened up the game on offense, quickly marching down the field with junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong finding senior wide receiver Billy Kemp for a 14-yard touchdown to cap off the drive. After the drive’s first two plays sent the Cavaliers back inside their own 10-yard line, Armstrong looked to be in command of the field, picking apart Louisville’s defense.

Unfortunately for Virginia, it lost its top receiver so far this season for the rest of the contest when sophomore wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks took a big hit to the head from junior linebacker Yasir Abdullah.

The Cardinals emphatically answered the Cavaliers’ touchdown on the first play of their own possession. Junior quarterback Malik Cunningham delivered a perfect deep ball pass to sophomore wide receiver Tyler Harrell, who outran Virginia’s secondary to score on a 91-yard catch-and-run.

After a pair of punts, each offense drove deep into the opponent’s territory before Virginia and Louisville settled for short field goals from sophomore kicker Brendan Farrell and sophomore kicker James Turner, respectively, to even the score at 10 apiece to close the first quarter.

The Cavaliers kicked off the second quarter with another strong drive highlighted by a 51-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Malachi Fields, but they were once again stopped inside the Cardinals’ 10-yard line, resulting in a short field goal from Farrell. Following a couple punts, Louisville seemed poised to take the lead, but a thunderous hit from junior cornerback Coen King on freshman running back Trevion Cooley jarred the ball loose, and King recovered the ball for Virginia. The turnover marked the first forced by the Cavaliers’ defense since Sept. 18 against North Carolina.

However, Virginia could not capitalize. A holding call on fourth-and-one inside the Cardinals’ territory pushed the Cavaliers back, forcing a long field attempt from Farrell, who left the kick just short of the goal posts. Louisville embarked on a quick drive to get into field goal range, giving Turner a 45-yard attempt to tie the game. The kick sailed wide right and Virginia went into the locker room with a 13-10 advantage. 

Receiving the ball to open the second half, the Cardinals stormed out of the gate. On only the fifth play of Louisville’s opening drive, junior running back Hassan Hall ripped through the middle of the Cavaliers’ defense for a 52-yard touchdown, earning the Cardinals their first lead of the game.

Virginia failed to respond as Armstrong threw an interception deep in Cavalier territory to set up a short field goal from Turner, extending Louisville's lead to 20-13. Virginia simply seemed stuck in the mud on both sides of the ball to open the second half with an ensuing punt leading to yet another Cardinal score, this time courtesy of a three-yard rush from redshirt freshman running back Jalen Mitchell.

To cap off the horrific quarter for the Cavaliers, Armstrong tossed another interception — his first game of the season with multiple interceptions — once again giving Louisville the football within striking distance of the endzone. Virginia was able to force a field goal, pushing the score to 30-13 and adding to what ended as 20 unanswered points for the Cardinals. After trailing at halftime, Louisville ended the third with a 97.4 percent chance to win according to ESPN.

The Cavaliers needed a near-miracle to pull off the comeback, and that is exactly what they got. Virginia started its comeback on the subsequent possession with senior wide receiver Keytaon Thompson finishing off the drive with a five-yard touchdown rush.

Virginia forced a quick three-and-out on defense, setting up the offense for a pivotal drive. Armstrong led the Cavaliers down the field on an eight-play 73-yard scoring drive capped off by a three-yard strike from Armstong to graduate student tight end Jelani Woods, quickly closing the deficit to 30-27.

The teams then traded punts, and with the clock winding down, Virginia desperately needed a stop. It took a game-saving chase-down tackle from senior cornerback Darrius Bratton on a 53-yard run from Hall to set the Cavaliers up for one final stand. Virginia held Louisville to a field goal to remain within one possession, preserving plenty of time for an offensive possession.

“That play to me, I'm not going to forget as a coach,” Mendenhall said in reference to Bratton’s tackle. “In fact, I might only remember a couple plays from that whole game and that was the one I remember most.”

The Cavaliers converted two fourth downs and Thompson racked up 51 receiving yards on three catches as Virginia drove down to the Cardinals’ one-yard line with less than 30 seconds remaining. On first-and-goal, Armstrong floated a ball to junior tight end Grant Misch for the touchdown, and the ensuing extra point from Farrell put the Cavaliers ahead 34-33 with 22 seconds remaining.

“Grant was my fourth option,” Armstrong said. “I quickly jumped from one to two to three faster than I could even blink and then I got to four, and then he was coming across on the over, and I found him.”

However, Louisville was not done, driving into field goal range before Turner’s game-winning field goal attempt sailed wide left. Under improbable circumstances, Virginia escaped with a one-point road victory.

Adding to his already impressive season totals, Armstrong threw for 487 yards and three touchdowns on a whopping 60 pass attempts. Thompson, Kemp, and senior wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry each corralled nine passes with Thompson and Henry both going for over 130 receiving yards.

After two blowout losses to begin ACC play, the Cavaliers have somehow put together two consecutive wins on the road against conference opponents with a combined margin of victory of only three points. There is certainly still progress to be made especially on the defensive end, but the grit shown in late-game situations is undoubtedly an encouraging sign for Virginia fans.

“I don't know if I have the appropriate thoughts or words, but I'm grateful and thankful to be the coach at U.Va.,” Mendenhall said. “I'm thankful that our players allow me to coach and that they try hard and that it matters to them.”

The Cavaliers will look to make it a three-game winning streak next weekend as they return home to face Duke. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.

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