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Virginia upsets Georgia Tech, 40-36, earns bowl eligibility

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WE’RE GOING BOWLING

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WE’RE GOING BOWLING!!! The Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2 ACC) played in their most dramatic game of the season, trading blows with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets before emerging victorious, 40-36.

Kurt Benkert finished with 260 yards and three touchdowns on 21-for-43 passing and Andre Levrone hauled in two TDs as the Cavaliers came from behind for the exciting win.

Unlike the last two weeks, the Hoos got off to a fast(er) start behind a 58-yard kickoff return by Joe Reed that led to a 36-yard field goal by first year AJ Mejia to give Virginia a 3-0 lead. The lead was their first since playing UNC three weeks ago.

Defensively, Micah Kiser et al did their jobs on the first two drives of the quarter, but gave up a big 49-yard pass play from Georgia Tech QB TaQuon Marshall to Jalen Camp. Marshall scored two plays later to give GT the 7-3 lead.

Georgia Tech attempted an onside kick following the score, but the Wreck’s kicker failed to get the ball the required 10 yards. Virginia took advantage of the excellent field position on the next play with a 33-yard pass to Olamide Zaccheaus, but their second illegal formation penalty pushed the Hoos back five yards. After GT returned the favor with an offsides call, Virginia was unable to find the end zone and kicked another field goal to make the score 7-6 early in the second quarter.

Both sides traded three-and-outs (minus one Virginia possession that included a first down off of a 34 yard Zaccheaus play) until Zaccheaus fumbled the ball inside Virginia’s 20 and setting up an easy touchdown for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech wouldn’t hold that eight point lead for long, however, as Reed finally broke free on one of his huge returns and found pay dirt to make it 14-13 at halftime. His 92-yard return is the 8th longest in UVA history.

Take a look:

Virginia’s receivers couldn’t get anything done in the first half, dropping passes left and right. Benkert went 7-for-19 for just 78 yards in the first half, but many of those incompletions were perfectly thrown passes to his - usually reliable - receivers. Georgia Tech out-gained Virginia 152-138 in the first thirty minutes, and the Jackets capitalized off of one big play and Zaccheaus’s ill-timed fumble.

The second half got off to the worst possible start for Virginia as the defense gave up a 78-yard touchdown run on Georgia Tech’s first play from scrimmage, then followed that up with a Benkert pick-six on Virginia first play from scrimmage to extend GT’s lead to 28-13 in just 35 seconds.

Benkert and the Hoos wouldn’t go quietly, though. On the ensuing drive, Benkert went 5-for-6, culminating in a 34 yard rocket to Andre Levrone to help Virginia close the gap to 28-20.

On second-and-nine in GT’s next possession, Marshall lobbed a ball to his receiver that Quin Blanding jumped in front of for his ninth career interception. Benkert needed just two plays to find Doni Dowling on a dime to the end zone, and then found Zaccheaus for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 28.

Virginia picked up a 33-yard field goal from Mejia to give the Hoos a 31-28 advantage, and the defense stood up tall. Georgia Tech couldn’t get anything going, and UVA punter Lester Coleman was unbelievable in the second half. With 8:49 left in the game, Coleman pinned the Jackets at the three yard line. Marshall couldn’t handle the snap, and the Hoos extended their lead to five on the safety.

Georgia Tech deflated the home crowd at Scott Stadium with a four minute, nine play, 90-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard touchdown reception by Ricky Jeune to give the Jackets a 36-33 lead (following the successful two-point conversion).

That put all the pressure on Benkert and the offense. Kurt was clicking from the start, connecting with Dowling, Ellis, and Zaccheaus through the air before dropping another perfect pass to Levrone for the touchdown. The Hoos needed just 1:48 and five plays to go 64 yards and the lead. AJ Mejia almost made things a little more interesting as the extra point needed a little help from both uprights to give Virginia the 40-36 lead.

Georgia Tech needed a touchdown to win, but the Virginia defense held strong, giving the Hoos their first bowl game since 2011.

For the Jackets, Marshall rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another 179 and a touchdown through the air in the loss. Georgia Tech is now 4-4 (3-3 ACC) and faces a brutal stretch to finish their season as well.

Next up, Virginia heads to Louisville.