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Offensive slugfest results in overtime loss for Virginia football

The Cavaliers squandered three key red-zone opportunities, and the Hurricanes ultimately outlasted Virginia with a two-point conversion in the fourth overtime

<p>In a game that was tied at six come the end of regulation, the punting units for both teams were active throughout.</p>

In a game that was tied at six come the end of regulation, the punting units for both teams were active throughout.

With a first ACC win under its belt, Virginia returned to Charlottesville to take on a struggling Miami team. The Cavaliers (3-5, 1-4 ACC) — having contained the Hurricanes’ (4-4, 2-2) offense throughout — could not capitalize on red-zone opportunities en route to a 14-12 loss. The kickers for the Hurricanes and Cavaliers found themselves busy in this contest, with freshman kickerWill Bettridge converting four field goals — all of his team’s points — to keep Virginia in the game. 

The first two quarters saw an utter lack of offensive firepower. Neither team made an advance into the red zone until the final two minutes, with the defenses consistently forcing punts and pressures on both quarterbacks. In a wild set of circumstances, only one drive of the first half resulted in points — a late field goal from Miami sent it into the break with a 3-0 lead. Ten punts from both teams preceded the Hurricanes’ successful drive, yet neither Virginia nor Miami suffered from turnovers throughout. However, the halftime break would yield a more watchable — albeit low-scoring — second period of play. 

The Cavaliers started off strong in the early minutes of the second half. A 47-yard deep ball from senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong to junior wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. — having followed a 30-yard strike to senior wide receiver Keytaon Thompson — put Virginia at Miami’s three-yard line. Continuing the theme of red-zone woes, the Cavaliers struggled to reach the end zone after a disastrous end-around to Thompson sent Virginia back to the 10-yard line. A field goal from Bettridge subsequently tied the contest at 3-3.

Following a punt from the Hurricanes, the Cavaliers looked the part on offense after a 64-yard screen pass to senior tailback Mike Hollins placed the ball at Miami’s one-yard line. Unbelievably, four plays and a one-yard distance would not be enough for the Cavaliers to cash in their first touchdown. On fourth and goal, junior tight end Grant Misch dropped a wide-open pass in the endzone and Virginia squandered a potentially game-changing opportunity. The red-zone struggles would only continue into the fourth quarter.

An inept Miami offense made no considerable progress in the second half, yet Virginia could not take advantage. The Cavaliers — on the heels of a 10 play, 59-yard drive which bled into the fourth quarter — failed to convert on third-down on the four-yard line of Miami. A loss of two yards from senior tailback Perris Jones forced Virginia to send out Bettridge — who netted his second field goal to give the Cavaliers a 6-3 lead with 12:11 to play. To the dismay of Virginia fans, the Hurricanes would finally string a few plays together to give them a chance at overtime.

Mirroring the end to the first half, Miami leaned on its run game in the final five minutes and finally advanced into the red-zone. Having helped Miami to set up shop at the seven-yard line with 16 seconds to play, sophomore running back Henry Parrish dashed through a hole and was abruptly stood up by a Cavalier defender at the two-yard line. The third-down stand by Virginia yielded a field goal from the Hurricanes, as the game would head to overtime after an unbelievable 6-6 finish in regulation.

The offensive slugfest made itself even more apparent in the extra frames. Virginia and Miami traded field goals in the first overtime, as neither team could convert a first-down and resorted once again to their kickers. To start the second overtime, Virginia once again stalled on offense, thereby setting up Bettridge for another 41-yard field goal try. With a leftward trajectory, Bettridge’s kick pinged off of the left post and sailed back through the uprights to keep the Cavaliers alive. Miami answered with a field goal of their own and a third overtime ensued. 

After two periods of overtime, college football rules mandate that both teams must try a two-point conversion instead of starting from the 25-yard line. The Cavaliers forced an incompletion on Miami’s first try only to witness the offense make a fatal mistake — a false-start penalty backed the Cavaliers up to the eight-yard line, and Armstrong threw an incompletion. Another miss from Armstrong in the fourth overtime frame set up the game-winner from Miami. Hurricane quarterback Jake Garcia — a freshman and replacement for the injured Tyler Van Dyke — rolled to his right and dove past the pylon to seal a 14-12 Miami victory. 

“We just needed to make one more play than they did, and they made a play there at the end and we didn’t make a play,” Coach Tony Elliott said. “But it seems like that’s been the theme with us offensively, is we're just leaving points on the field.”

The Cavaliers could not make a play when it mattered most. Two field goals from Bettridge accounted for three redzone appearances — all of which came within Miami’s five-yard line. The offense failed to turn the corner even after showing signs of promise. A lack of turnovers — a surprising stat for Virginia — only makes the offensive unit’s performance more confusing. The Cavaliers had legitimate chances to put the game away in the third and fourth quarters, yet faltered again and again while knocking on Miami’s door. The defense, however, stepped up. A nearly lights-out effort from this unit was not enough to make up for the offense’s shortcomings, as a season of frustration continues in the first year of Elliott’s tenure.

The Cavaliers will have a shot at redemption against North Carolina Saturday in the 127th edition of the South’s Oldest Rivalry. The No. 17 Tar Heels (7-1, 4-0 ACC) — coming off an 18-point win over Pittsburgh — will pose a serious threat for the reeling Cavaliers. Kickoff is scheduled for noon Saturday, and the game will be televised on ACC Network.

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