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Virginia football breaks a historic losing streak with a 27-13 victory over William and Mary

In a season full of incredibly frustrating losses, coach Tony Elliott temporarily rights the ship with first win of 2023

<p>Malik Washington scored his fifth touchdown of the season to put the Cavaliers ahead for good in the second half.</p>

Malik Washington scored his fifth touchdown of the season to put the Cavaliers ahead for good in the second half.

Virginia football earned its first win of the season Saturday, defeating William and Mary 27-13 after pulling away in the second half. Playing host to former Coach Mike London and the Tribe (4-2, 2-1 CAA), the Cavaliers (1-5, 0-2 ACC) finally got in the win column to hopefully turn their season around. 

Virginia’s offense took the field first, going three-and-out as graduate student tackle Jimmy Christ surrendered a sack on third down. On defense, the Cavaliers struggled to stop the run — but freshman linebacker Kam Robinson broke into the backfield to force a dropped pass — and ultimately a Tribe field goal to only go down 0-3. 

A gain of 17 yards by sixth-year running back Perris Jones brought Virginia into William and Mary territory for the first time of the afternoon, but senior running back Kobe Pace was stopped on third down. Sophomore kicker Will Bettridge was able to convert a long 45-yard field goal — the second longest of his career — to tie the game at 3-3. The following Tribe drive resulted in Senior Caden Bonoffski making a field goal from 48 yards out to retake a 6-3 lead.

On the next drive, William and Mary junior linebacker John Pius forced a fumble on senior quarterback Tony Muskett and returned the ball all the way to Virginia’s four-yard line. The Tribe elected to gamble, running a play on fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line that finished with a touchdown by sophomore running back Martin Lucas to put Virginia in a 13-3 deficit. 

Back on offense, Muskett found junior wide receiver Malachi Fields for a 23-yard gain. On the next play, Muskett launched a perfect pass to senior tight end Sackett Wood Jr. for another first down. Jones then ran for a 12-yard gain. One-on-one with senior defensive end Nate Lynn — arguably Willian and Mary’s best playmaker — Muskett used a spin move to send Lynn tumbling to the grass en route to a gain of seven yards. Muskett scrambled again for seven yards on the following play, scoring a touchdown to cut the Tribe lead to 13-10. 

With momentum now in hand, the Cavaliers stopped consecutive run plays for no gain and did not allow a first down to force the first punt of the game. Senior wide receiver Malik Washington picked up 17 yards on his first catch, but Muskett took a brutal sack by Pius to put Virginia in a second-and-long. A delay of game penalty later pushed the offense back to a 3rd-and-19, but Washington put the Cavaliers in scoring position with a 42-yard catch. Bettridge eventually hit a 37-yard field goal to tie the game at 13-13. 

On a scramble by junior quarterback Darius Wilson, sixth-year cornerback Coen King forced a fumble that was recovered by the Cavaliers. Taking advantage of one final opportunity in the first half, Muskett led an up-tempo drive in an attempt to score before halftime. In similar fashion to his incredible play last weekend against Boston College, Fields had a dramatic touchdown just before halftime to give Virginia a 20-13 lead. 

“[William and Mary] gave us a one-on-one matchup and we had to capitalize,” Elliott said postgame.

The Cavalier defense forced a three-and-out to start the third quarter, giving the offense a chance to increase its lead to two possessions. Pace ran for a gain of 20 yards and Jones responded with a run of 15 yards, but Muskett was intercepted in the endzone to give the ball back to William and Mary. Wilson continued to expose Virginia’s weak run defense, but ended up in a fourth-and-two deep in Virginia territory — and its defense held strong. 

With the ball back, Muskett fired a first-down gain to Washington. An 11-yard rush by Jones followed by a 10-yard Fields catch sparked some rhythm on offense at the end of the third quarter. On fourth-and-short, the Cavaliers picked up a first down via a specialized quarterback sneak with sophomore quarterback Grady Brosterhous — popularized by the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. Muskett scrambled to keep the drive alive on another fourth down but landed awkwardly on his previously injured left shoulder. He was able to reenter the game and immediately threw a soaring spiral to Washington for a touchdown — increasing Virginia’s lead to 27-13.

With less than ten minutes remaining and a two-touchdown lead, the Cavalier defense allowed a series of short-yard gains by Wilson — but forced William and Mary to drain a significant portion of the game clock. Sixth-year cornerback Tayvonn Kyle nearly intercepted Wilson but still forced a crucial fourth down where freshman tight end Sean McElwain was stopped just short for a turnover on downs. 

With the game just about under control, Muskett just needed to drain the game clock. Jones burst through for a 43-yard run — he ended with a total of 12 carries for 134 yards — clinching Virginia’s first victory since a win against Georgia Tech Oct. 20 during last year’s season. The Tribe was flagged for running into the kicker on an Bettridge field goal attempt to give the Cavaliers a first-and-goal, which essentially ended the game. 

“Also shout out to the student body. I thought they showed up, that's three home games where they've showed up, they've been loud. They've been very supportive. So very, very appreciative of the other students and the fans as well for showing up,” Elliott said. “We don’t want to be close [to almost winning] anymore. We want to take that next step. I was proud of the guys, we maintained our focus.” 

Offensive coordinator Des Kitchings also oversaw a complete overhaul offensively, as Virginia had more rushing yards than its opponent for the first time in 2023. 

“Everybody needed this win,” Kitchings said. “It’s been rough without tasting victory. We’re all desperate for it, it’s rewarding to earn this as a team playing complimentary football.”

Also a “first” of the season, defensive coordinator John Rudzinski’s unit allowed zero points in the second half — the Cavaliers had previously been one of the worst second-half defenses in all of college football.

“Anytime that you get an opportunity to win, anytime that you get an opportunity to learn, it’s good,” Rudzinski said. “We gotta continue to make small strides moving forward.”

Elliott and company are clearly far from being off the hot seat, but Virginia has certainly built solid momentum going into its bye week. Up next, the Cavaliers travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. to play against No. 14 North Carolina Oct. 21. 


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