Virginia football picked up a huge win on Saturday night in Chapel Hill as the Cavaliers defeated North Carolina, 38-31. The win made Virginia bowl eligible for the third straight year, and put them in control of the Coastal Division with an ACC record of 6-3 (4-2 ACC).
Bryce Perkins looked arguably the best he had all season, passing for 378 yards on 30-for-39 attempts and three touchdowns, and added two touchdowns and 112 yards with his legs. Terrell Jana was outstanding as a receiving option, picking up 146 yards on 13 receptions, a new career-high.
The Virginia offense looked much better than in previous weeks, getting more creative and balancing short passes, rushes, and deep shots well. The tight ends (Tanner Cowley and Grant Misch) combined for 59 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cavaliers had their hands full with Sam Howell (15-for-29, 353 yards, four touchdowns), but made a decisive stand late in the game to get the ball back for the offense.
Neither team got much going on its first drive of the game, but the Tar Heels took a 3-0 lead after Noah Ruggles converted a 37-yarder for the lead. Virginia responded with a strong offensive drive, something Virginia fans had been clamoring for over the past couple weeks. Jana picked up 28 yards on three consecutive receptions, and facing 4th-and-3, the Hoos lined up to punt. Instead, Brennan Armstrong found tight end Tanner Cowley for a five-yard pick up and the first down to keep the drive alive.
Back-to-back passes to Joe Reed for 10 and 17 yards brought the Cavaliers down to the 1-yard line, and Perkins would find pay dirt two downs later to give Virginia a 7-3 lead with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
The Virginia defense would allow just nine plays out of the Tar Heels on their next drive, and took over once again with a chance to extend the lead. Virginia’s drive stalled at the 4-yard line, and Brian Delaney rang true on a 21-yard field goal to give the Hoos a 10-3 advantage.
North Carolina scored the next 14 points — touchdown receptions of 47 and 34 yards by Dyami Brown — to take a 17-10 lead with 2:06 to play in the first half. Virginia took over on their own 22-yard line, and rattled off a 13-play, 78 yard drive that resulted in a touchdown from Hasise Dubois that knotted the score at 17 heading into the halftime break. Virginia notched five first downs on the drive, methodically moving down the field to score.
Perkins was outstanding in the first half, going 18-for-26 for 198 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a touchdown with his legs.
UNC’s Brown was nearly unstoppable in the first half, accumulating 151 yards and two touchdowns on just four receptions. He accounted for all but 92 yards of Carolina’s first half offense, but Virginia’s poor tackling (and a blatant missed hold) allowed for a lot of that to happen.
Virginia made an immediate impact in the second half, taking a 24-17 lead thanks to a 65-yard touchdown run from Perkins. It was Virginia’s first play over 50 yards for the season, and came at a big moment for the road team.
After a defensive stop, the Cavaliers took over on their own 15-yard line. On 3rd-and-11, Perkins ripped a bullet to Jana over the middle for a 34-yard pick up to just shy of midfield. Things looked dicey for a minute when Taulapapa fumbled the ball, but Jana jumped on it and an unsportsmanlike conduct from North Carolina moved the Cavaliers down to the 9-yard line. The next play, Perkins made like he was going to rush, but instead found a wide-open Tanner Cowley for a touchdown and 31-17 lead.
North Carolina responded with a touchdown drive — one that was scored on a 50-yard strike from Howell — to bring the Tar Heels back within one score.
Another outstanding drive from the Cavaliers resulted in a tight end touch down to push the lead to 38-24, but Howell again went deep for a 42-yard touchdown pass to return the Virginia advantage to 38-31. That score would hold heading into the fourth quarter.
For the first time in five drives, the Cavaliers didn’t score a touchdown, instead having to punt and pinning the Tar Heels inside their own 10-yard line. North Carolina would put together another time-consuming drive that ate up 88-yards, but the Heels came up empty on a 4th-and-4 at the 6-yard line.
Virginia would run some time off the clock before punting back to the Heels, and North Carolina started its final drive of the game from their own 41-yard line. The Heels picked up one first down before a rush and three straight incompletions turned the ball over on downs and allowed the Cavaliers to take the victory formation.
The Cavaliers return home for the final three games of the season and will face Georgia Tech next weekend. The game is scheduled for a 12:30 kick off.