An absolute shootout in Charlottesville on Saturday evening as the Virginia Cavaliers and North Carolina Tar Heels faced off in the 125th edition of the South’s Oldest Rivalry. The Hoos managed to hold off a Carolina rally to come away with the 44-41 win over the No. 15 Tar Heels. Saturday night’s win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Hoos, and a losing streak against AP Top 15 teams that goes back to 2011.
Both teams’ offenses came out red hot, with each of the first five game possessions ending in points. In all, seven of Virginia’s 11 possessions resulted in points (six of them touchdowns), with the 11th possession being the final drive of the game. Same on the Carolina side—seven of 11 possessions resulting in scores, though only five touchdowns. Carolina had two costly fumbles that resulted in Virginia touchdowns, while Armstrong threw an interception that led to seven on the other side.
Chunk plays continue to plague the Cavalier secondary as the Hoos were without Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson.
In the final drive of the game, QB Brennan Armstrong, who completed 12 of 22 pass attempts for 208 yards and three touchdowns, came out of the game injured with what looked like something with his left ankle or leg. Armstrong led the team with 20 rush attempts for a team second-best 66 yards.
Senior transfer RB Shane Simpson had a breakout performance, rushing 8 times for 70 yards, averaging 8.8 yards per carry. That includes this beauty:
On the defensive side of the ball, Charles Snowden got up close and personal with UNC QB Sam Howell, putting up four sacks and 10 total tackles (5 solo). Nick Johnson led the team with 11 total tackles (6 total, 1 sack).
Carolina’s opening drive only needed 85 seconds and four plays to go 75 yards and find the end zone in what felt like an immediate “here we go again” for Virginia fans. But a well-orchestrated drive for Virginia gave the Hoos an immediate answer, and while Brian Delaney missed the extra point, the Hoos were back in action.
The defense would hold Carolina to a field goal, and Virginia would come back with another touchdown—this time with the extra point!—to take a 13-10 lead.
The refs, similar to last week, were ACC refs. I say that not to be captain obvious here, what with it being an ACC game and all, but they were ACC refs in every sense of the italicized words. Blown pass interference calls and the rare “inadvertent whistle” do-over call (a play called a fumble, a dropped pass, then back to a fumble), the refs were notably bad on both sides.
While the mulligan certainly saved Virginia from another Carolina touch down, the Heels were able to convert to a field goal to tie the ball game 13 a piece.
Later in the first half, with the game tied at 20 a piece, a critical unsportsmanlike penalty on Carolina extended Virginia’s drive, and just when it looked like Virginia wouldn’t be able to capitalize on it, Carolina muffed the punt return to give the Hoos the ball on the Carolina 20. The fumble recovery would lead to a Virginia touchdown to take the Hoos 27-20 heading into the half. (North Carolina would get the ball back but completely botch the final possession.)
Virginia picked up the second half exactly where they left off, with a touchdown on their first possession. Another UNC fumble led to another Virginia touchdown, and before you knew it, the Hoos were up three touchdowns, 41-20.
The third quarter closed with a Carolina touchdown, and the fourth quarter started off rocky for Virginia as well, as Armstrong threw his first interception of the game that would lead to a UNC touchdown to bring it to just 41-34 with 13:09 to go in the game.
But Virginia was determined. In the ensuing drive, the Hoos used 15 plays to eat up 9:02 of play clock, adding three points off a 35-yard field goal from Brian Delaney to go up 44-34.
The shootout would continue! It would take North Carolina only 1:16 and four plays to drive their way into the end zone to bring it within just three points.
A hugely gutsy call to go for it on fourth-and-three on Virginia’s own 42 would pay off and seal the deal for Virginia.
Carolina outpaced Virginia, 536 to 418 total offensive yards, including 443-208 passing yards. Virginia found most of its success on the ground, outrunning the Heels 210-93. Carolina penalties came at inopportune times, and when they came, they were big, losing 69 yards on six penalties. Virginia converted on every one of its red zone appearances.
So Virginia has now beaten UNC in football four straight times, matching its longest-ever streak against the Heels. The Cavaliers improve to 2-4 overall and in the conference and will take on the Louisville Cardinals next Saturday in Charlottesville at 8:00 p.m. ET.