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Virginia’s winning streak comes to an end with bizarre 29-26 loss at Miami

The Cavaliers jumped out to an early lead but struggled to contain the Hurricanes’ rushing attack throughout the afternoon

<p>Mike Hollins found the end zone early and often, scoring two touchdowns for the Cavaliers.</p>

Mike Hollins found the end zone early and often, scoring two touchdowns for the Cavaliers.

Virginia football could not capitalize on its season-changing win against No. 10 North Carolina last week, instead losing a 29-26 heartbreaker on the road Saturday against Miami. The Cavaliers (2-6, 1-3 ACC) jumped out to an early double-digit lead but saw the Hurricanes (6-2, 2-2 ACC) fight back to push the game into overtime, where a touchdown by the home team sealed the victory and gave Virginia its fourth loss by three or fewer points.

To start the afternoon on defense, the Cavaliers blitzed early and gave the offense its opening drive by forcing a three-and-out. Senior quarterback Tony Muskett quickly dished the ball to graduate student wide receiver Malik Washington and sixth year running back Perris Jones, and a roughing the passer penalty pushed Virginia to the 33-yard line of the Hurricanes. On a key third down, junior wide receiver Malachi Fields fought through multiple tackles to pick up enough yards for a first down. For the fourth time in his previous five quarters of play, graduate student running back Mike Hollins rumbled in for a touchdown. His latest score gave the Cavaliers an opening 7-0 lead. 

With the defense surrendering a series of medium-yard gains, Virginia was being pushed deep into its own territory before graduate student cornerback Sam Westfall swiped an interception to take the ball back for the Cavaliers.

Virginia continued to gash Miami on the ground, as sizable gains from Jones and Hollins fueled the offensive attack. The Cavaliers turned away from their successful strategy though, and struggled in pass protection as senior punter Daniel Sparks booted the ball away to conclude the first quarter.

Aiming to reclaim momentum, the Virginia defense implemented hyper-aggressive stunt pressures to force a Hurricane three-and-out. Unfortunately, the Cavalier offense went three-and-out as well. Back on defense, sixth year defensive lineman Aaron Faumui batted junior quarterback Tyler Van Dyke’s pass incomplete.

Muskett and the offense went back to work with just a few ticks over 10 minutes remaining in the first half. On the first play of the possession, Washington sprinted for an incredible 64-yard gain to ignite the Virginia attack. A batted pass on third down prevented what would have been a touchdown, but a field goal by sophomore kicker Will Bettridge — a Miami native — gave the Cavaliers a 10-0 lead. 

Virginia’s defense started to crack in the waning minutes of the second quarter, but a Hurricane false start helped hinder their passing barrage. The aforementioned stunt pressures helped hold Miami to a field goal that cut the Cavalier lead to 10-3.

Hollins got the Virginia counterattack going, then Fields picked up a subsequent first down. Washington grabbed another first down, and the Cavaliers found themselves at midfield with just over a minute before halftime. Despite having all three timeouts, Coach Tony Elliott elected to only use one, as Virginia felt satisfied heading into halftime with a 10-3 lead.

On the first offensive drive of the third quarter, Muskett faced overwhelming Hurricane pressure and struggled to find completions en route to a three-and-out. On the defensive side, the Cavaliers produced significantly less pressure on Van Dyke without stunt rushes. The running lanes opened for Miami, and a rushing touchdown by freshman running back Ajay Allen tied the game at 10-10. On the very next play, Muskett threw an interception that junior safety Kamren Kinchens returned for a touchdown to give the Hurricanes a 17-10 lead.

Muskett quickly connected with Fields and a following rush by senior running back Kobe Pace to rebuild momentum. On a massive third-and-short, Elliott called timeout. Virginia actually picked up the first down, but the play was erased as the timeout was called prior to the snap. Pace narrowly picked up the first down on a second effort, and back-to-back Washington catches sparked a promising drive — but the Cavaliers were only able to conjure up a Bettridge field goal to cut the deficit to 17-13. 

The tide began to turn again, as Van Dyke forced a poor pass down the middle of the field that was intercepted by freshman linebacker Kam Robinson. With the ball in Miami territory, Jones picked up an 19-yard gain sandwiched by two catches by Fields. Muskett and Jones connected for a miraculous third down conversion to keep the drive alive, and Hollins managed to stay in bounds for his second touchdown of the game to create a 20-17 lead. 

On the kickoff, a Miami muff gave the Cavalier defense prime field position inside the opposing 10-yard line, where Virginia created a third-and-short going into the fourth quarter. 

Van Dyke was able to throw for the first down, but an eventual pass breakup by junior safety Jonas Sanker forced a punt. With just under 13 minutes remaining in the game, Virginia had the opportunity to take a two-possession lead. On the first play of the offensive drive, a dirty late hit by the Hurricanes was not penalized. Using the same stunt rushes the Cavaliers employed, Miami sacked Muskett and generated a Virginia punt.

King had a clean interception for the Cavaliers but narrowly dropped the ball as he hit the ground. Regardless, the defense was able to hold strong on third down. The Hurricanes tied the contest with a field goal, to create a thrilling 20-20 tie with 9:26 remaining. 

On a pivotal fourth down, the Virginia offensive line gave Muskett enough time to find Fields open for the first down catch. A Muskett scramble registered 14 yards to push closer towards retaking the lead, but once again the Cavaliers had to settle for a Bettridge field goal. He made yet another kick and gave Virginia a 23-20 lead with 4:20 left to play.

The Cavalier defense earned a stop on a third-and-eight, but a disadvantageously spotted ball by the officiating crew gave Miami a first down. Facing another third-and-eight later in the drive, Virginia was able to limit the Hurricanes to a tying field goal. Locked in at 23-23, Muskett and the offense would have the final chance with just 1:23 left in regulation. 

Jones ran for a 20-yard gain to acquire desirable field position. Facing a third-and-six at midfield and 42 seconds remaining, Muskett was sacked — the sixth time on the afternoon. Miami decided to kneel out the final seconds of regulation, sending the game to overtime.

Virginia was held to one more Bettridge field goal — his fourth of the afternoon — to take a 26-23 lead. The game was then squarely placed on the defense, which continued the theme of struggling against the run. A missed block in the back call on the Hurricanes pushed junior linebacker James Jackson out of the play, which resulted in a game-winning touchdown for Miami. Elliott was happy with the way the team played overall, but the final sequence will live in the team’s mind throughout the rest of the season.

“Obviously you want to score touchdowns in the red zone, but the biggest thing is coming away with points, and I’m proud of the guys for that,” Elliott said in a postgame press conference. “But at the end of the day, they made one more play than we did.”

With a frustrating 29-26 loss, the Cavaliers were unable to escape Miami Gardens, Fla. with what could have been a comfortable victory. Virginia possessed the ball for over nine more minutes, and also won the yardage battle 377-276. Untimely sacks, conservative play calling and questionable officiating doomed the underdog Cavaliers. Up next, they host Georgia Tech Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the CW network.


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