It was closer than anyone expected or hoped, but the Virginia Cavaliers emerged with a 33-28 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to improve to 7-3 (5-2 ACC) on the season. After a high-scoring first half, both teams slowed down in the second. Questions remain about the secondary as the Hoos have now lost six starters, and it was evident as the Jackets systematically picked on Virginia through the air.
Bryce Perkins had another outstanding game going 24-for-35 with 258 yards and a touchdown in the air and another 106 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Terrell Jana continued his outstanding play, hauling in nine catches for 108 yards, and was important on a day that Hasise Dubois (0 catches) and Joe Reed (five catches, 27 yards) were relatively quiet. Billy Kemp IV had a career day with four receptions on four targets for 51 yards, including the game clinching first down with a 16-yard pick up on 3rd-and-4.
Jordan Mack and Zane Zandier led the defense with nine tackles apiece, followed by Nick Grant and DeVante Cross. Joey Blount added six tackles and an interception.
Virginia’s depleted secondary showed on Georgia Tech’s first drive as James Graham found receiver Ahmarean Brown for a 59-yard touchdown strike and an early 7-0 lead.
The Cavaliers responded with a 76-yard drive and needed just nine plays to find the end zone and tie the game. Perkins went 4-for-4 with 47 yards on the drive, adding 14 with his legs. Taulapapa pushed the ball the final two yards for the touchdown, but Jana again was a huge target as he hauled in three passes for 36 yards.
Georgia Tech was clearly confident and comfortable, marching down the field for a seven play, 75 yard touchdown drive. A 37-yard pass to Tobias Oliver got the Jackets moving, capping it off with an easy five yard rush for the touchdown.
The Cavaliers became the first team to punt on the afternoon after going four yards in three plays on the ensuing drive. In desperate need of a big play, safety Joey Blount stepped up. Facing 2nd-and-8, Graham had time to launch another deep ball downfield. This time, Blount was there to come up with the interception and returned it 37 yards to the GT 28-yard line. Virginia would find the end zone just three plays later as Joe Reed broke a tackle and picked up the nine yards needed for a touchdown.
The Virginia defense got a much needed stop on the next Georgia Tech possession, stifling the Jackets into a three-and-out and their first punt of the day. Virginia would drive all the way to the GT 6-yard line, but failed to find the end zone as they settled for a 24-yard kick from Brian Delaney to go ahead 17-14 with 10:36 to play in the first half.
Virginia was unable to capitalize before the half and add to their advantage after the missed field goal by the Jackets as Tanner Cowley couldn’t hold on to a pass in traffic on 4th-and-4. Three plays and 65 yards later, Graham found Malachi Carter in the end zone for a 21-17 lead with 44 seconds remaining in the half.
Thanks to a big 40-yard return from Tavares Kelly to the 50 yard line, the Hoos had good field position to try and put points on the board before the break. Perkins rattled off a 43-yard rush on first down and scampered into the end zone on 3rd-and-goal to put Virginia back on top 24-21 with 11 seconds remaining before the break.
Georgia Tech led in total yards (263-231), passing yards (192-125), and yards per play (8.5-6.2). Perkins went 12-for-19 with a touchdown pass and a touchdown run in the first half, but the Cavalier defense looked to be a shell of their former selves over the first 30 minutes of the game.
Virginia got the ball back to start the second half and got all the way down to the GT 28-yard line before three straight negative yardage plays saw the Hoos punting again. The two squads traded three-and-outs on their next possessions as GT took over on the Virginia 12-yard line. A personal foul called on Jowon Briggs gave the Jackets 15 yards and a new set of downs, but two run stuffs and an incomplete pass later, GT was punting.
Neither team would score in the third quarter after a relatively explosive first half, but the Cavaliers pushed their lead to 27-21 with 13:32 left in the game thanks to a 34-yard field goal from Delaney.
The defense, much improved in the second half, would force another three-and-out on GT. Starting from the 50-yard line after another Kemp return, Perkins found Kemp for an easy 13-yard pickup. On the next play he connected with Jana for a 25-yard gain, then Jana again for a 9-yard pickup to the three-yard line. Taulapapa would need just one carry for his second touchdown of the day and a 33-21 lead for the Hoos. Virginia would attempt a two-point conversion, but Reed couldn’t hold on to the ball in the end zone.
Georgia Tech kept things interesting with another touchdown drive to cut the lead to five with 5:30 to play, but the Virginia offense churned their way down the field. Perkins and the Hoos would pick up two first downs as the clock ticked, including a pivotal pick up from Kemp to secure the win.
Virginia now has a bye week as they try and heal and recuperate before closing out the season with home games against Liberty and Virginia Tech.