Virginia hosted Louisville early Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium for the annual Homecoming Game. The Cardinals (3-3, 1-3 ACC) were without injured star senior quarterback Malik Cunningham — pushing junior quarterback Brock Domann to the spotlight for his first career start — and struggled early. However, after a hot start, the Cavaliers (2-4, 0-3 ACC) faltered and were outscored by Louisville, ultimately losing 34-17.
After a quick Louisville three-and-out, Virginia’s first drive started on its own 36 with senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong finding junior wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks for a quick first down. Back-to-back run stops set up third down near midfield, but Armstrong found junior wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. for a big gain and a conversion. The Cavaliers were less lucky on their next third down, as Armstrong’s pass fell short, leading to a 47-yard field goal by freshman kicker Will Bettridge.
Louisville again took the ball on its own 25, but quickly lost it as Domann’s first pass of the contest was intercepted by graduate student cornerback Anthony Johnson. Facing a third-and-long, a Louisville offside gave Armstrong a free play. The quarterback rolled to his left and threw a bomb over double coverage to Wicks in the end zone for a touchdown and an early 10-0 lead.
Louisville again punted without picking up a first down thanks to a key pass breakup by Johnson. Virginia took over at its own 37, where Armstrong found graduate student wide receiver Keytaon Thompson twice to take the Cavaliers solidly into Cardinal territory. A bad snap forced Armstrong to scramble for a first down, but the star passer fumbled, giving Louisville back the ball inside its own 20.
Domann still struggled, and the teams traded punts to end the quarter with Louisville taking over at the start of the second quarter. Domann completed his first pass of the game to junior tight end Marshon Ford for a first down and eventually found senior wideout Tyler Hudson on a screen to set up a first-and-goal, but Virginia’s defense finally held firm and forced a Louisville field goal.
After a quick visit to the field for the Cavalier offense, a productive punt return by Lousiville’s senior returner Braden Smith gave the Cardinals the ball at their own 48 with a great chance to tie the game. Facing a fourth down, the Cardinals chose to go for it. Domann stuck the ball in the gut of his tailback, then pulled back right before the back was leveled, leaving the quarterback free to jog in for a score as the stadium roared, thinking the stop had been made. This tied the game 10-10 with 7:51 left in the first half.
Virginia — offense now sputtering — quickly punted back to the Cardinals. A promising Louisville drive on the ensuing possession was then halted when Johnson tipped a pass to senior safety Antonio Clary for an interception that was returned to midfield.
Virginia got off two plays before Armstrong threw a strike directly to Louisville sophomore cornerback Jarvis Brownlee Jr. for another turnover. Louisville moved the ball well, driving deep into Cavalier territory before settling for a 20-yard field goal that gave the Cardinals a 13-10 lead at the half.
The bleeding continued for Virginia to open the second half as a quick three-and-out led to another touchdown for Louisville. A coverage breakdown on defense allowed Ford a wide-open run at the end zone and Domann delivered a dime, making the game 20-10 less than five minutes into the half.
Armstrong started off the next drive with promise, moving the ball into Cardinal territory. The Cavaliers quickly found themselves facing a fourth down, where Armstrong found Wicks on the sideline and made the throw despite a vicious hit. Following a pass interference call, Armstrong then escaped a collapsing pocket and soared across the goal line for a touchdown to bring the game back within a score.
Louisville failed to pick up a first down thanks to yet another key pass breakup by Johnson and a continued inability to get its run game going. With a chance to at least tie the game, Armstrong dropped back on his first pass after the punt and threw a ball into double coverage, where it was intercepted by sophomore defensive back M.J. Griffin.
The Cardinals took advantage with a swift touchdown drive as sophomore running back Trevion Cooley punched the ball in and put Louisville up 10 points with just under a minute to play in the third quarter.
With the game seemingly slipping from Virginia’s grasp, a touchdown by Louisville’s sophomore running back Jawhar Jordan with 11:03 left in the game sandwiched by one failed fourth down conversion from the Cavalier offense all but sealed Virginia’s fate.
On the game’s final drive, Virginia’s defense sold out to stop the run, but Louisvlle continued to pound the rock and run the clock, hoping to ice the win. The Cardinals killed the final 8:11 with a monstrous 13-play, 67-yard drive, ending the game 34-17.
After the first quarter, Virginia was outgained 447 yards to 177 and converted just one third down. Louisville exploited a Cavalier defense that was vulnerable tackling, while also limiting the limp Virginia rushing attack to six yards on 25 attempts.
“The windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason,” Coach Tony Elliott said after the game. “So you can keep your eyes looking forward, not looking behind.”
In the windshield for next week is a much needed bye for the team to reset before a Thursday night away date against Georgia Tech Oct. 20. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.