Virginia football returned home to Scott Stadium Saturday and proceeded to play its most complete game of the season, outlasting Duke 30-27. The Cavaliers (3-8, 2-5 ACC) never trailed in the game and showed the potential of a young but talented roster in the victory over the Blue Devils (6-5, 3-4 ACC).
Beginning the afternoon on offense, senior running back Kobe Pace rushed for a 13-yard gain on the opening play. Virginia faced an early third down a few plays later though, where a dropped pass by graduate student running back Mike Hollins sent the Cavaliers into punting formation. Virginia’s offense swiftly returned however, as the defense stifled Duke into an electrifying three-and-out on their first possession.
Freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea evaded the Blue Devil pass rush and connected with junior wide receiver Ethan Davies for a first down — his first catch of the season and just the second of his career. Marching down the field, Colandrea continued to escape the Duke defensive line on a scramble to pick up another first down. On the next play, graduate student wide receiver Malik Washington scored his eighth touchdown of the season to take a 7-0 lead — breaking the Virginia single-season receiving record in the process.
Deep in Virginia territory, junior safety Jonas Sanker hammered graduate student running back Jordan Waters for a forced fumble to gift the ball back to Colandrea and the offense, but the Cavaliers were unable to capitalize and were forced to punt. Virginia’s defensive line began to create pressure soon after though, as a punishing sack on freshman quarterback Grayson Loftis by junior defensive tackle Michael Diatta pulled Duke back into a third-and-long, eventually resulting in a punt.
The Cavaliers began the second quarter with a dropped pass by senior tight end Sackett Wood Jr. that contributed towards yet another three-and-out as Virginia punted again. Taking advantage of penalties and a slew of carries for Waters, the Blue Devils tied the game up at 7-7 from an incredible catch by senior wide receiver Jalon Calhoun.
With his intended receiver covered, Colandrea took off running for a gain of 40 yards to flip the field on Duke. The Cavaliers were unable to advance further downfield but sophomore kicker Will Bettridge converted a 46-yard field goal to retake the lead at 10-7.
Sanker forced a second fumble, but the play was incorrectly ruled as an incomplete pass. Virginia’s defense forced the Blue Devils to punt away though, where an onslaught of penalty flags negated extensive punt return yardage. Another holding penalty pinned the Cavalier offense back to its own eight yard line. A 20-yard gain by Pace was then taken away by an questionable holding penalty on sophomore offensive tackle McKale Boley which put Virginia into a 2nd-and-24 at its own three yard line. One more holding call was announced, but it was declined as the Cavaliers subsequently sent out their punting unit with just over four and a half minutes remaining in the first half.
Another incorrectly called roughing the passer penalty kept Duke’s offense on the field instead of punting, but the Virginia defense was able to hold the Blue Devils to a field goal — going into halftime tied at 10-10.
The Cavalier defense began the third quarter with a three-and-out, giving Colandrea the opportunity to take a second-half lead. He rushed for a first down himself, before connecting with Washington for 27 yards — the pass helped Washington break Virginia’s single-season receptions record. On the next play, Colandrea tossed a perfect pass to junior wide receiver Malachi Fields for a 29-yard touchdown to take a 17-10 lead.
With momentum in hand, the Cavalier defense was flagged for another falsely-called roughing the passer penalty — but freshman safety Caleb Hardy snagged his first career interception for a massive play. Returning offensively, Colandrea found Fields for a gain of 25 yards and then another catch for 17 yards. Pace then caught a quick toss for 18 yards, and another Washington touchdown increased Virginia’s lead to 24-10.
Freshman cornerback Dre Walker had previously held up well in coverage, but surrendered three catches for 48 yards as the Blue Devil counterattack reached the Cavalier 16-yard line. However, fifth year linebacker Josh Ahern forced an incomplete pass to hold Duke to a field goal and a score of 24-13. A brief three-and-out for the Virginia offense returned possession to the Blue Devils with just under three and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Calhoun picked up 34 yards, but later on the drive he was hit hard by Walker on third down to bring up a 44-yard field goal attempt, which Duke missed. With the football back and facing a fourth-and-two, Coach Tony Elliott brought out the popular quarterback sneak formation led by sophomore quarterback Grady Brosterhous to pick up the first down going into the fourth quarter.
Hollins opened the final quarter of play with a 22-yard rumble and later caught an eight-yard pass to put Virginia at first-and-goal. On third down, Fields dropped a touchdown — forcing the Cavaliers to settle for another Bettridge field goal to lead 27-13. Virginia’s defense then allowed a 58-yard rushing touchdown to junior running back Jaquez Moore without draining much of the game clock, cutting the lead to 27-20.
With 9:03 left in the game, the Cavalier offense took the field looking to bleed out the clock and also pick up an insurance score. Davies dropped a wide open pass that would have been a gain of at least 50 yards. The offense encountered another fourth down, and Brosterhous delivered as per usual. Virginia ultimately settled for a field goal to take a 30-20 lead, but the Blue Devils used all of their timeouts to preserve the game clock in the process.
On a crucial drive, the Cavalier defense faced a third-and-goal but were flagged for pass interference. On the next play, Loftis threw a touchdown to cut Virginia’s lead to 30-27 with 1:13 left to play. The game would be decided by an onside kick, which was recovered by sixth year cornerback Tayvonn Kyle to secure victory for the Cavaliers.
Washington had his ninth 100-yard receiving game of the season, the most in all of college football. As he continues to make his case for the Biletnikoff Award for the best receiver in the nation, his fellow stars from Saturday were the true freshman Cavaliers. Colandrea played his best game of the year, and Walker and Hardy patrolled the defensive backfield like seasoned veterans. When combined with linebacker Kam Robinson’s double-digit tackles and Harrison’s solid offensive game, it is clear that the roster has a bright future.
“When you’re at the University of Virginia, you go hard all the time,” defensive coordinator John Rudzinski said. I’m blessed to be part of this football program.”
Washington and the rookies have been key cogs of Elliott’s rebuilding football program, as progress is the process for the new-look Cavaliers. Overcoming adversity and fighting hard every single day have become synonymous with Cavalier football.
“I know this is a place I can develop as a young man and as a football player,” Washington said.
The team will get one final opportunity to show its development in 2023, as Virginia’s regular season finale will take place Saturday in Charlottesville against in-state rival Virginia Tech. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.