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Virginia football squanders a golden opportunity in a loss to Virginia Tech 29-24

The Cavaliers’ offensive struggles in the second half doomed the team in their second straight loss to the Hokies

<p>Despite throwing for 400 yards today, Armstrong couldn’t connect with the right people at the most crucial moment of the game.</p>

Despite throwing for 400 yards today, Armstrong couldn’t connect with the right people at the most crucial moment of the game.

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In a hard-fought affair against Virginia’s biggest rival, an offensive absence in the second half doomed Virginia to another loss to Virginia Tech 29-24. The Cavaliers (6-6, 4-4 ACC) started off strong in the first half, but missed opportunities starting in the second quarter eventually left the door open for the Hokies (6-6, 4-4 ACC) to come back and emerge victorious. Virginia would score just three points in the second half, which simply was not a winning strategy for this iteration of Cavalier football.

After winning the coin toss, Virginia Tech elected to receive the ball first, hoping to set the tone of the game early. The Hokies picked up two quick first downs on the ground before stalling out in Virginia territory, punting to give Armstong and the potent Cavalier offense their first stab at scoring. Just six plays — and a few more penalties — later, Virginia found itself in the red zone, with graduate tight end Jelani Woods eventually finding the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to put the Cavaliers on the board first.

Virginia Tech would not waste any time tying the game, however, as junior quarterback Braxton Burmeister threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to knot the score at seven. The Cavaliers would fight back on the next drive, but a controversial pass to sophomore receiver Dontayvion Wicks was ruled incomplete, even after coach Bronco Mendenhall challenged the play. Not to be discouraged, junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong willed the offense down the field yet again before rushing in to make the score 14-7 in what was quickly becoming a back-and-forth affair.

To end the first quarter, a hole as wide as the Red Sea opened for Burmeister, and the Hokies were put in prime scoring position to retie the game. With a touchdown on the line, though, the Virginia defense had arguably the highlight of its season, keeping Virginia Tech out of the end zone and forcing a turnover on downs. The much-maligned unit showed up in the biggest game of the season, but this time it was the Cavalier offense that couldn’t capitalize, as Armstrong threw a pick to end yet another promising drive. 

Facing a third-and-10, the plague of explosive plays hit Virginia’s defense yet again, as the Hokies completed a 35-yard pass to get inside the redzone. Two plays later, junior running back Raheem Blackshear found the end zone on an 18-yard scamper, tying the game once again with 6:05 left in the half. Virginia needed a response from the best unit on the first, and it got one. Armstrong — after already leading the Cavaliers on a six-play drive — muscled his way through three Hokie defenders to both score his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon and cement his place in Virginia football lore.

Virginia’s defense stood strong again on the next drive, with freshman linebacker West Weeks sacking Burmeister on third down, but a questionable-at-best roughing the punter penalty gave Virginia Tech a first down and new life on offense. After yet another long pass play given up by the Cavaliers, the Hokies found themselves with a golden opportunity to put points on the board heading into halftime. Senior kicker John Parker Romo hit a field goal as time expired, bringing the score to 21-17 in a game that the Cavaliers should have been winning by double digits.

Mendenhall did not seem pleased with the roughing the punter penalty in the postgame press conference.

“The clear instructions were, whatever you do, stay off the punter,” Mendenahll said. “It cost us three points.”

To start off the second half, graduate running back Devin Darrington immediately broke off a 44-yard reception to set Virginia up well right away. After a targeting penalty on Virginia Tech was overturned, however, the Cavaliers settled for a 34-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Brendan Farrell.

Virginia Tech quickly answered with two more big plays on the ground — the Hokies would have 12 plays running of 10 or more yards in the game — before a trick play resulted in a Burmeister touchdown reception to tie the game at 24. On the next drive, the bad news compounded for the Cavaliers, with Armstrong limping around after being sacked. The Cavaliers could not convert the third down, the Hokies got the ball with a chance to take the lead. 

Asa very all-or-nothing night for the Cavalier defense continued, Virginia recorded its third sack of the game. When the Virginia offense came out, however, disaster struck — No. 5 could not be seen on the field. In relief of Armstrong, freshman Jay Woolfolk moved the ball into Hokie territory before the junior from Ohio returned to play in front of a raucous ovation. Unfortunately, the very first play of Armstrong’s return resulted in a turnover, as senior Keytaon Thompson fumbled the ball. A suboptimal third quarter for Virginia would come to an end with Virginia Tech moving the ball on the ground yet again.

To start the fourth quarter, senior safety Joey Blount barely made a tackle that would have been an almost certain rushing touchdown for Burmeister. Soon after, a very delayed call by the officials negated a Virginia Tech penalty, resulting in a much easier third-down conversion for the Hokies. The team from Blacksburg could not capitalize on the 12-play drive, however, as Virginia Tech settled for another field goal to go up 27-24.

A quick three-and-out followed for Virginia — their first of the day — at the worst possible time. With the Hokies gaining possession again, the Cavaliers had to keep them out of the end zone. For the first few plays of the drive, the situation was not promising. Sophomore linebacker Josh Ahern went down with what looked like a serious injury, and to add insult to injury, Ahern was called for targeting on the play, giving Virginia Tech a first down past midfield. The Virginia defense stepped up when it mattered yet again, however, forcing a Hokie punt and giving Armstrong a chance to bring the regular season to a close on a positive note.

On the most important drive of the season, the Virginia offense simply could not get the ball moving, resulting in a fourth-and-2 where Mendenhall made the tough decision to go for it. Armstrong — after scrambling for quite some time — eventually fumbled the ball, resulting in a Virginia safety. The onside kick attempt by the Cavaliers failed, and it appeared to be the end of the night for Virginia, with another disappointing loss to their in-state rivals.

But the game was not over just yet. A fumble by Virginia Tech gave the Cavaliers a golden opportunity to win the game with a touchdown. Armstrong converted a third down, a penalty was called on the Hokies, and suddenly Virginia found itself at the nine-yard line with 1:24 to play. On a third down play, however, an ill-fated trick play thrown to an offensive lineman lost five yards, and suddenly the Cavaliers were on their last legs. A pass fell incomplete in the end zone, and Virginia Tech kneeled out the clock to win 29-24.

“We’ve worked on [the pass to left tackle Bobby Haskins] maybe the entire season,” Mendenhall said. “I liked the chances [of the play working].”

A thrilling ending resulted in one of the more heartbreaking losses of the past few years in the Commonwealth Cup for Virginia, of which there have been many to begin with. And with the final view of the 2021 football regular season being Virginia Tech fans storming the field of Scott Stadium in a triumphant manner, there was simply an air of disappointment from the Cavalier faithful as they finished a once-promising season just 6-6 with another defeat at the hands of their most bitter rivals.

Virginia will play in a bowl game, but the opponent, time and location is yet to be determined.


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