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Virginia Football weathers bouts of sloppiness to win Elliott’s debut

The Cavaliers alternated between stretches of brilliance and frustrating play in an unconvincing start to the Elliott Era

<p>Pregame, Scott Stadium was rocking as the new Cavalier Julie Caruccio led the Cavaliers out onto the field to the strains of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck for the first time.</p>

Pregame, Scott Stadium was rocking as the new Cavalier Julie Caruccio led the Cavaliers out onto the field to the strains of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck for the first time.

Football Championship Subdivision school Richmond hung tough with a Virginia team that was sloppy at times, but the Spiders (0-1, 0-0 CAA) were unable to spoil Coach Tony Elliot’s debut Saturday afternoon. Richmond took an early lead, but a humming Virginia (1-0, 0-0 ACC) offense scored touchdowns on four straight first half possessions to retake the advantage. The Cavaliers then survived a subpar third quarter and took care of business in the fourth to put away the season’s first victory. 

Pregame, Scott Stadium was rocking as the new Cavalier Julie Caruccio led the Cavaliers out onto the field to the strains of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck for the first time. Senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong led the orange jerseys onto the field and successfully called the coin toss deferring the ball to Richmond.

The teams traded punts on their first possessions of the season. On its second possession, Richmond quarterback Reece Udinski started working the Cavalier secondary with quick passes and draw plays and eventually ended the 11-play, four-minute drive with a score as junior running back Savon Smith sliced through the line for eight yards and six points.

The Cavaliers only needed two plays to respond. Starting from their own 20 yard line, Armstrong found junior wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks for a few yards plus a facemask penalty, then threw a strike to towering junior wide receiver Lavel Davis for a 56-yard touchdown. 

For the rest of the first quarter, both teams tried to establish a run game, to varying degrees of success. Richmond went three-and-out again, and Virginia’s first several runs went for very little gain before senior runningback Perris Jones finally picked up a pair of big carries, the second of which was a score.

The Virginia defense once again tightened up, quickly getting the ball back to the offense. Four plays into the ensuing drive, Armstrong stuck the ball into Jones’ gut, pulled it back at the last second, and scythed down the right sideline for a 64-yard touchdown to put Virginia up 21-7. This run also made Armstrong the all-time Virginia leader in total offense.

Richmond, though down, refused to roll over. They returned to a steady diet of runs from Smith and senior running back Aaron Dykes and quick hitting passes from Udinski to move the ball into a field goal range, where they picked up three points. 

The Cavaliers got the ball back and continued to give the Spiders a heavy dose of Jones. A holding call against Richmond extended the drive and eventually led to a Virginia touchdown for junior runningback Mike Hollins, who recovered his own fumble in the end zone.  

After Virginia forced a turnover on downs in its own territory, Elliott elected to run out the clock, taking both sides into the halftime break.

Virginia picked up a first down right away to start the second half, but Wicks then caught a pass and fumbled the ball straight into the waiting arms of Richmond senior safety Aaron Banks. 

Richmond started the drive on the Cavalier 34 yard line and leaned on Smith and Dykes to lead them deep into the red zone. On third-and-goal from the five, Udinski found Smith on an angle route and the running back absorbed a monster hit and held on for the score, cutting Virginia’s lead to 11. 

Virginia took over but immediately handed Richmond another short field when a hurried Armstrong threw a pass right into Banks’ arms for another turnover. The Spiders failed to capitalize, however, with Udinski throwing a deep ball that was nearly picked by junior cornerback Fentrell Cypress, followed by junior kicker Jake Larson missing a 48-yard field goal.

The Cavaliers sloppy play continued into the next drive with multiple dropped passes and a botched snap that culminated in a punt that was downed inside the Richmond three yard line.

The Spiders worked their way out of the poor field position quickly. A Virginia interception was negated by a penalty, immediately followed by another big Smith run to take the ball near midfield. Richmond’s quick passes and tailback dives out of the no huddle were clearly starting to tire out the Virginia defense, who had been out in the heat almost the entire third quarter. However, the Cavaliers mustered enough energy to stuff Dykes on consecutive plays to force a turnover on downs and shift the momentum back in their favor. 

Armstrong started the fourth quarter by working the offense into the red zone, and on third-and-five from the 11, Armstrong dropped back to avoid a blitzer and dropped a rainbow of a pass to a wide open Jones for the touchdown.

After three consecutive punts, Virginia began running out the clock, getting Jones up over 100 yards on the day. After getting the ball across midfield, the backups came in and the clock wound all the way down to zeroes, giving Virginia an unconvincing win against a plucky Richmond team, 34-17.

Armstrong finished 246 yards through the air to go along with over 100 yards on the ground, a strong start to his highly anticipated senior campaign. On the receiving end of his passes was a balanced afternoon of production, as Davis, Wicks and Thompson all caught at least four passes.

“I'm just happy that [Armstrong’s] here for me to come alongside, because at the end of the day, the vision I have is only going to come to life with the belief of those guys, and he's paramount in our success going forward,” Elliott said.

On the defensive side, senior linebacker Nick Jackson led the way with 14 tackles and Cypress led the secondary with three pass breakups and eight tackles. However, the Cavaliers weren’t able to generate any turnovers, something that will need to change as the competition becomes stronger.

“There's gonna be a lot to clean up, but I think the [defense] having a chance to see themselves being successful in situations is just going to help us going forward,” Elliott said.

The Cavaliers certainly have room for improvement, but starting the Elliott era with a win in an energized Scott Stadium is what Virginia needed. The Cavaliers’ next game will be Saturday against Illinois at 4 p.m. in Urbana-Champaign, Ill.

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