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Virginia football fades in the second half, loses to BYU 66-49

An apparent rib injury to Brennan Armstrong squashed the Cavaliers’ chances of a fourth-quarter comeback

<p>Graduate student running back Devin Darrington celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against BYU Saturday night.</p>

Graduate student running back Devin Darrington celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against BYU Saturday night.

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Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s homecoming did not go exactly as planned for his Virginia Cavaliers, as BYU jumped out to a 21-0 lead before the first quarter was even halfway through. After fighting back to take the lead into halftime, however, the Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2 ACC) could not sustain the offense needed to match the Cougars (7-2), with BYU pulling away in the fourth quarter to win 66-49.

BYU deferred on the coin toss, and junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong led the Virginia offense out for the first time against the Cougars, but a quick-three-and-out gave the ball right back to BYU. Sophomore quarterback Jaren Hall had a dream start from deep inside his own territory, shredding the Virginia secondary to the tune of a four-play, 83-yard drive ending with a one-yard Hall rushing touchdown.

The nightmare start continued for the Cavaliers, as Armstrong’s very next pass was intercepted by sophomore linebacker Peyton Wilgar to set BYU up in the red zone, and sophomore running back Tyler Allgeier extended the lead to 14-0 with a two-yard touchdown.

After a three-and-out by Virginia, Hall led the Cougars on another long drive, covering 73 yards before throwing a touchdown pass of his own to sophomore wide receiver Puka Nacua. After nearly the worst start imaginable, Virginia was down 21-0 in the blink of an eye.

When receiving the ball back, however, the Cavaliers had their first productive offensive drive of the night. Armstrong took it into his own hands on the trip downfield, accounting for 55 of the 75 total yards and culminating with a five-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 14. In a game where a lead may never seem safe for both sides, the Cavalier offense finding its rhythm had to be a scary sight for BYU.

Following the ensuing kickoff, the red-hot BYU offense didn’t cool down, although the drive finally lasted for more than two minutes. In just over four minutes of game time, Hall and the Cougars methodically drove the field for a 10-play, 75-yard campaign which concluded with yet another Allgeier touchdown. Five plays after, however, Armstrong found graduate student tight end Jelani Woods for a 40-yard touchdown to complete a lightning-quick drive of their own to make the score 28-14 BYU.

The Virginia defense — although not always put in the best positions by its offensive counterpart — finally showed a bit of substance, forcing BYU to punt for the first time all night. The Cavaliers needed just one play to respond this time, as sophomore wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks took the pass from Armstrong 70 yards to the house to bring the score within seven for the first time since the beginning of the first quarter.

BYU’s next drive, while aided by a questionable roughing the passer call against Virginia, stalled out in the red zone. While sophomore kicker Jake Oldroyd did push the lead to 10 with a 37-yard field goal, any drive that didn’t end in the end zone for either team would be considered a win for the defense. In a rhythm now, the Virginia offense struck quickly yet again, this time with a 49-yard rushing touchdown from graduate student running back Devin Darrington to bring the score to 31-28.

After a punt by the Cougars, Virginia took advantage, this time on a 30-yard rushing touchdown by Armstrong to give the Cavaliers their first lead of the night with 1:57 remaining in the half. After being down by so much so quickly, few could have predicted the turnaround experienced by Virginia in just one quarter. The lead did not last, unfortunately, as BYU found its spark on offense again, taking just three plays to drive 75 yards and retaking the lead 38-35.

Incredibly, the first half was still not over when Virginia received the ensuing kickoff, and Armstrong made sure to take advantage, leading the Cavaliers down the field to score one last touchdown in just over a minute of game time to bring the halftime score to 42-38.

The scoreboard — although showing a combined 80 points for the teams in one half of football — cannot fully encapsulate the truly explosive nature of the first half in Provo. 13 plays went for more than 20 yards, and Virginia did not score a touchdown on a play shorter than 12 yards the entirety of the second quarter. An unbelievable half of football certainly had fans of both teams excited for how the end would play out.

While Mendenhall was praiseworthy of the offense in the postgame press conference, he verbalized what Virginia fans have been thinking all season. 

“The defense has to get stops and play better,” Mendenhall said, just about summing up the Cavaliers’ season so far.

The second half started out just as quickly for BYU, as the Cougars received the ball and immediately drove down the field for a touchdown, with Allgeier seemingly wanting to match Darrington with a 49-yard touchdown of his own. After a punt by Virginia, the Cougars seemed poised to score again, but their drive stalled out at the Cavaliers’ 16-yard line before Oldyard hit the upright on his missed field goal.

Getting the ball back, the Cavalier offense seemed to find its footing once more, with Armstrong leading Virginia down the field on its most methodical drive of the game — a nine-play, 84-yard drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass to senior football player Keytaon Thompson. A quickly played third quarter came to an end with BYU knocking on the door yet again with the ball on Virginia’s five-yard line as the clock drew to zero.

After a penalty to begin the fourth, BYU once again found the end zone, with Hall completing a 10-yard pass to freshman tight end Isaac Rex to make the score 52-49 Cougars. A fumble by Virginia gave BYU yet another short field, and Allgeier’s fourth rushing touchdown of the night put the game nearly out of reach. BYU scored once more on the night, bringing the final score to 66-49, but the most important play of the fourth quarter had nothing to do with the ball crossing the goal line. 

Armstrong ran off the field in visible pain after throwing an interception midway through the fourth quarter. He held his ribcage and seemed to indicate that something might be broken. The quarterback would not return for the rest of the night, as freshman quarterback Jay Woolfolk filled in, but what viewers saw was undoubtedly scary for the nation’s leading passer. No news has broken yet about an injury or potential timetable for Armstrong, but the hope is always that he will return to full form to help Virginia bounce back from a wild Saturday night loss in Utah.

The Cavaliers will next take action in what is arguably the biggest game of the year so far, as Notre Dame comes to Scott Stadium Nov. 13, after a well-deserved bye week. The kickoff time is to be determined.

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