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Virginia Football uses strong second half to take down Liberty, 45-24

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The Hoos are guaranteed a winning regular season for the first time since 2011.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers secured their first winning regular season since 2011 with a 45-24 victory over the Liberty Flames. Things were a little tighter than Virginia fans would have liked through the first half of the game, but the Cavalier defense stepped it up with two second half interceptions as they separated from the Flames.

Bryce Perkins rebounded from a shaky performance against Pitt last week with a solid game against Liberty. Perkins finished 14-for-22 passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns and added 89 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. His lone blemish came late in the second quarter as he threw a pick that led to an easy touchdown for Liberty.

Joe Reed had his best game of the season, with two receptions for 20 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to open the second half. Olamide Zaccheaus added 86 yards, and Hasise Dubois had 23 of his own.

On the ground, Jordan Ellis was a work horse with 106 yards and one touchdown for the Hoos. As a group, Virginia picked up 5.7 yards per carry, and had just one play go for a loss all game. One week after Perkins was sacked five times, he had protection from the line and wasn’t sacked once.

Defensively, Virginia had three interceptions and held Liberty to just one touchdown in the second half. The Hoos were only flagged for one penalty—a holding call—in the game. Three players—Juan Thornhill, Robert Snyder, and Jordan Mack—had 10 tackles or more.

Virginia fell behind 7-0 after the opening drive as Liberty amassed 75 yards—61 of which came on the ground—in 4:26. Peytton Pickett had four carries for 52 yards, but it was Frankie Hickson who punched the ball into the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the one yard line for the score.

Joe Reed returned the ensuing kick off to the Virginia 45-yard line, and Perkins found Zaccheaus for 29 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Three plays later, Perkins hit Hasise Dubois on a rope in the end zone to tie things up at seven.

The Hoos only used 2:04 off the clock and needed just four plays to go 55 yards for the touchdown. Perkins was a perfect 3-for-3 for 46 yards and a touchdown and rushed for nine yards of his own on the drive.

On Liberty’s second drive, the Virginia defense again forced a 4th-and-1—this time at midfield—and again the Flames converted. Liberty failed to pick up the first down on a 3rd-and-5 attempt dropped by the receiver, and they tried the 51-yard field goal. It went wide right and fell short, giving Virginia the ball on their own 34-yard line.

Perkins put the Hoos ahead 14-7 thanks to a 13-yard scamper into the end zone to cap off a 66-yard drive. He continued his hot start as he went 2-for-2 on the drive and rushed for 30 yards as Virginia easily picked up yardage.

Liberty’s offense was cruising again, down to the Virginia 18-yard line, before Elliott Brown picked off a pass on 3rd-and-7. That gave the Hoos the ball on their own 23-yard line, and Virginia rattled off a 10-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that ended with Ellis picking up the score.

The Flames added to the scoreboard with a 37-yard field goal to make it 21-10 with 2:35 left in the second quarter. Hickson rushed for 34 yards on the 55 yard drive, with Liberty QB Stephen Calvert finding B.J. Farrow for a 16-yard pickup as well. Virginia got a good return from Reed, but Perkins threw an interception on the second play from scrimmage and Liberty returned it to inside the 10-yard line. One play later, Hickson walked it into the end zone to make it 21-17 with 2:09 left in the half. The interception was Perkins’s third incomplete pass and the only mistake by the offense in the first half. Unfortunately, the mistake was costly.

Virginia put together a strong drive to end the half, going 50 yards in 2:06 and getting a 32-yard field goal from Brian Delaney to put the Hoos back up seven at 24-17. Perkins attempted a fake spike for a pass into the end zone, but the Liberty defender read it the whole way and provided good coverage on Dubois.

The two teams were almost even in total yardage in the first half with Virginia holding a slight edge 243-240. Both quarterbacks threw an interception that resulted in a touchdown scoring drive for the other team in the first half. Perkins went 8-for-12 for 108 yards and a touchdown in the first half and rushed seven times for an additional 81 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Ellis added 43 yards and a touchdown, and Zaccheaus had five receptions for 60 yards.

Defensively, Virginia was susceptible to Liberty’s rushing game, giving up 5.3 yards per rush to the combo of Pickett and Hickson in the first half. Liberty rushed for 139 yards in the first half, and both of their touchdowns came on the ground. Juan Thornhill led the Hoos with nine first-half tackles.

The second half started just about as well as you could ask for the Hoos as Reed returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to make it 31-17, Virginia.

The Flames wouldn’t go quietly, however, answering with a 65-yard, six play drive capped with a touchdown from Pickett.

Virginia couldn’t respond, punting for the first time in the game after the Hoos failed to convert a 3rd-and-7 from the Liberty 38-yard line. The defense had their best stand of the day, holding the Flames on third down. Facing a 4th-and-1 from their own 14-yard line, Liberty head coach Turner Gill decided to roll the dice and go for it. Instead of rushing it like they had the two previous (and successful) fourth down attempts, Calvert looked to pass. Brenton Nelson swatted the ball away, giving the Hoos possession in the red zone. Three plays later, Perkins evaded a tackle and scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to put Virginia up 38-24.

After three rushes and a first down from Pickett, Calvert dropped back looking for a long ball down the field. Thornhill was there in coverage, breaking up the pass while Da’Vante Cross picked off the rebound. Virginia was unable to make anything happen on the offense, and Lester Coleman pinned the Flames to their own 6-yard line. The Hoos were close to recording a safety on a sack, but on the next play Juan Thornhill picked off his fifth ball of the season to give possession right back to UVA.

Virginia leaned on Ellis on their next drive as the fourth year running back picked up 18 yards—including six on a 4th-and-1 at the Liberty 12-yard line. The Hoos capped an eight play, 35 yard drive with Reed’s second receiving touchdown of the game to put Virginia up 45-24 with 12:24 left in the game.

The defense held on Liberty’s next drive, and the Flames punted for the first time of the game with under nine minutes remaining. Virginia was able to burn clock and snuff any hope of a Flames comeback to secure the win.

Next up, Virginia travels to Georgia Tech for another Coastal Division clash.