Tue, October 26, 2021


Cavaliers unable to overcome slow start, mistakes in loss to Demon Deacons

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - A week after one of the most dreadful defensive performances in program history, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall had placed a premium on preventing momentum-titling long gains heading into Friday nights showdown against undefeated Wake Forest.

The Cavaliers' defense failed mightily again in that regard, and an offense that had been scoring in bunches took far too long to join the fray, sending mistake-prone Virginia to a 37-17 loss in its ACC home opener in front of an announced crowd of 38,699 at Scott Stadium.

The Cavaliers (2-2) surrendered points on Wake Forest's first seven possessions and 473 yards of total offense overall less than a week after North Carolina battered them for 699, the most since Mendenhall took over in 2016. Wake Forest's onslaught included five plays of at least 20 yards and four covering at least 29 yards.

Virginia never drew closer than two scores during the second half following a touchdown, its first of the game, on the opening series of the third quarter. That 17-yard scoring throw from quarterback Brennan Armstrong to tight end Jelani Woods came with 12:37 left and trimmed the deficit to 20-10.

But the Demon Deacons (4-0) countered with a nine-play, 83-yard drive ending in quarterback Sam Hartman's 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blake Whiteheart on a trick play.

It began with running back Christian Beal-Smith receiving the direct snap and flipping the ball to Hartman. The defense then lost track of Whiteheart, who was open in the end zone without a defender in the vicinity.

Virginia cut into the lead on Armstrong's 22-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks, but the Demon Deacons scored the next 10 points to all but secure the outcome. The touchdown in that stretch came on third and goal from the 12 when Hartman found wide receiver A.T. Perry on a 12-yard out, beating cornerback Fentrell Cypress III.

Kicker Nick Sciba's 35-yard field goal with 12:56 to play in the fourth quarter provided Wake Forest with a 37-17 lead.

Armstrong finished with 407 yards on 33-for-59 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. The Cavaliers amassed 506 yards of total offense, the vast majority of which were cosmetic, and rushed for 99 yards, including minus-1 in the first half, with starting tailback Wayne Taulapapa in the concussion protocol.

The Cavaliers, who committed 11 penalties and allowed six sacks, stumbled into a double-digit deficit early in the first half and labored to make up ground heading into the locker room, reaching the red zone twice but managing only three points on the way to trailing 20-3.

The only points of the first half for Virginia came courtesy of kicker Justin Duenkel's 21-yard field with 12:07 left in the second quarter. The Cavaliers had marched to the Wake Forest 6, where the drive stalled when Armstrong ran for 2 yards on 3rd-and-4.

The decision to kick the field goal proved somewhat curious given Virginia had gone for it on 4th-and-goal from the 5 midway through the first quarter. Armstrong threw into the middle of the end zone on the play, with the pass intended for Wicks, but the ball fell incomplete.

Virginia's defense surrendered the longest play of the game early in the second quarter, failing to fill the proper running lanes and yielding Justice Ellison's 63-yard burst. Boundary cornerback Anthony Johnson caught Ellison from behind at the 12 to save the touchdown but only briefly.

Five plays later, the Demon Deacons expanded the lead to 17-3 on Ellison's 1-yard run with 9:25 to go until halftime.

Another defensive error led to Wake Forest adding the final points of the half with 1:31 to play. On 2nd-and-goal from the 5, Hartman threw to the front of the end zone, with the ball sailing into the chest of Cavaliers nickelback De'Vante Cross.

But the senior was unable to secure the interception, and on fourth down, Sciba converted a 23-yard field goal, leading to a smattering of boos from unimpressed Cavaliers fans as players jogged toward the locker room.

Blown assignments along Virginia's front seven and in the secondary allowed the Demon Deacons to roll to a 10-0 lead during the first quarter.

The first points came on Hartman's 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Taylor Morin. The redshirt freshman went uncovered on the left side of the field, and Hartman (17 for 29, 270 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions), with ample time to survey the field, delivered the scoring throw less than three minutes into the game.

After the Cavaliers turned the ball over on downs at the Wake Forest 5, the Demon Deacons needed six plays and a penalty to cross midfield. They got to the Virginia 28 on a 20-yard completion from Hartman to Whiteheart on another defensive miscommunication that left the middle of the field deserted.

But the Cavaliers forced an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-10, and Wake Forest settled for Sciba's 46-yard field goal with 2:34 remaining in the opening quarter.

Published : September 25, 2021