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Virginia overcomes slow start to extinguish Flames, 55-27

Hoos improve to eight wins with the victory over Liberty.

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

After a stumble in the second quarter that saw the Hoos facing a 14-10 deficit, the Virginia Cavaliers rallied for a 55-27 win over Liberty. The Cavalier offense kept rolling, putting up 499 yards and going a perfect 8-for-8 in the red zone in the game. It’s the third straight game that the Cavaliers have put at least 30 points on the scoreboard.

Bryce Perkins was outstanding, going 18-for-30 for 199 yards and two touchdowns and adding 30 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Ten different receivers caught a pass for the Cavaliers, and three of them scored touchdowns in the game. In the win, Perkins became the first Virginia player to reach 3000 yards of total offense in multiple seasons.

On the ground, Virginia rushed for 227 yards, led by 82 yards and a touchdown from PK Kier and 61 yards and a touchdown from Lamont Atkins. Mike Hollins also added a rushing touchdown.

Liberty’s QB, Buckshot Calvert, finished with 283 yards on 16-for-40 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Talented Flames receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden had six receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, Heskin Smith led the Cavaliers with eight tackles and added two pass breakups. Virginia had three sacks and six tackles for a loss in the game. Da’Vante Cross picked Calvert twice in the game.

The Virginia defense looked strong on the first series of the game as the Hoos forced a three-and-out after two incompletions and a monster sack from Mandy Alonso on third down. Perkins and the offense got to work immediately, taking advantage of a 37-yard return by Billy Kemp that started the Cavaliers at the Liberty 47-yard line.

Virginia marched 47 yards in nine plays, capping off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Jana. Jana has come on as of late, and the touchdown was his first score of the season.

Another three-and-out by Liberty set the Hoos up with favorable field position yet again, this time aided by a 15-yard kick interference call that started the drive at the Virginia 44-yard line. The drive stalled at the eight yard line, and the Cavaliers settled for a 26-yard field goal to push the lead to 10-0.

The Flames puts together back-to-back touchdown drives to take a 14-10 lead as the Virginia offense simultaneously sputtered. Virginia’s secondary issues were exposed in the second half after Liberty’s touchdown was set up by a pass of 56 yards and their second touchdown came on a drive that had a big pickup by Golden-Gandy of 25 yards.

After failing to convert a 4th-and-2 at the Liberty 42-yard line, the Virginia defense came up with a big interception that injected life into the team. Scrambling out of the pocket, Calvert heaved a deep ball that Da’Vante Cross easily picked and returned 52-yards. Five plays later, Atkins rumbled into the end zone to put the Hoos back in front 17-14 with 4:59 left in the first half.

The Cavalier D held strong on the next series, allowing just six yards in three plays and setting up another punt by Liberty. Virginia took over at their own 41-yard line, and Perkins found Kemp for a 22-yard pick up on the first play of the drive. Atkins found a huge hole for a 33-yard rumble, and Mike Hollins finished the possession with a touchdown that put the Hoos up 24-14 with 2:40 left on the clock.

Virginia would take that 10-point lead into the break after Liberty missed a 43-yard field goal on its next possession.

Seneca Milledge returned the opening kickoff of the second half 41 yards, setting the Hoos up with good field position once again. A 25-yard pass to Jana moved the Hoos into Liberty territory, but Virginia faced 4th-and-9 at the Liberty 31-yard line after failing to keep the drive going. Bronco Mendenhall pulled out some tricks, having Brennan Armstrong go for it (after showing a kicking formation). Armstrong connected with Charles Snowden (yes, defensive star Charles Snowden) for a 24-yard first down pick up.

Perkins would find Joe Reed for the touchdown and the 31-14 lead two plays later.

The two teams would trade punts over the next two possessions before Virginia’s Nash Griffin perfectly placed a punt at the one-yard line. Liberty was unable to pick up a single yard — Calvert threw three incompletions — and the Flames punter shanked one 14 yards to give the Hoos outstanding field position.

Virginia’s lead ballooned to 38-14 with 4:41 left on the clock in the third quarter just five plays later as Perkins called his own number and finished the drive with a touchdown. Liberty answered with a quick six play, 75 yard drive to cut the lead to 17, but Virginia responded right away with a strong possession of their own.

PK Kier rattled off a 38-yard run to set the Hoos up with a 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Robert Anae gave the ball right back to Kier, and the running back picked up the final four yards to put Virginia up 45-21 with 13:26 left in the game.

The two teams traded field goals (and Cross got his second pick) before Armstrong entered the game for Perkins and found Dontayvion Wicks for a 44-yard touchdown to put the game away with just under two minutes left on the clock.

Now, the Cavaliers will host Virginia Tech on Black Friday with everything on the line. If Virginia wins, they’ll both end The Streak and earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game. Kick-off is set for noon on ABC.