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Virginia fails to slow down Carolina offense as Hoos’ suffer first loss

Virginia v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Virginia and North Carolina put on a display of high-flying offense under the lights in Chapel Hill, with the two teams combining for a total of 52, 69, and 85 points, respectively over each of the past three years. But UNC got the better of the exchange this year behind 392 rushing yards en route to a 59-39 win—Mack Brown’s first over UVA in the Bronco Mendenhall era.

Brennan Armstrong set Virginia’s single-game passing yardage record with 554 yards through the air, passing for more than 300 yards in the first half alone, but the UVA run game was non-existent and the defense must have stayed in Charlottesville. UNC quarterback Sam Howell passed for 5 touchdowns and 307 yards, and contributed another 112 yards on the ground. All in all, the Hoos gave up 699 yards, much of it in big chunks, allowing 10.3 yards per play.

The first half saw UNC land haymaker after haymaker, scoring touchdowns on their first three drives to start the game. Here’s how those drives went:

  • 4 plays, 82 yards in 1:14, capped by 59-yard pass from Howell to Downs
  • 3 plays, 83 yards in 1:16, scoring on a 37-yard pass from Howell to Downs
  • 1 play, a 75-yard touchdown pass from Howell to Khafre Brown

Virginia’s start was nowhere near as crisp, with the opening drive ending in a punt and the second ending with a Keytaon Thompson fumble at the Heels’ 18. A Wayne Taulapapa 1-yard run put UVA on the board in the first quarter before the Howell-Brown touchdown stretched Carolina’s lead back to 21-7.

But the Cavaliers’ defense held UNC to a field goal on the Heels’ first drive of the second quarter, and Armstrong hit Dontayvion Wicks on a deep ball to score from 40 yards out. UNC moved the ball 70 yards on their next drive before Fentrell Cypress picked off Howell in the end zone and returned the pick into Carolina territory.

The UVA defense stymied the next UNC drive and Mack Brown decided to attempt a 54-yard field goal with just over a minute to play in the first half. The kick sailed wide right and Virginia took quick advantage of the good field position: Armstrong dropped a beautiful ball over Billy Kemp’s shoulder with just six seconds left to put the Hoos on top 28-24 at the break.

The second half started much as the first did, with UNC scoring right out of the gate as Howell found tight end Garrett Walson to put Carolina back in the lead, 31-28. Virginia’s drive in response was stalled by an absolutely horrific call from the officiating crew: Kemp and a UNC defender each caught hold of the others’ facemask—with Kemp being thrown to the ground by his at the end of the play—but only Kemp was flagged. The 15-yard penalty put UVA behind the sticks and a big UNC punt return led to a 9-play, 37-yard touchdown drive for Carolina capped by a Caleb Hood rush from five yards out.

UVA responded with a 58-yard drive of their own and Justin Duenkel kicked a 34-yard field goal to close the gap. The next UNC drive was bolstered as the officials inverted their interpretation of the facemask rule from earlier in the quarter, this time flagging only the Virginia defender when both players’ hands caught the other’s hardware. Ty Chandler took advantage, adding a five-yard rushing score and pushing UNC’s lead back to double digit—a 45-31 lead that Carolina took into the fourth quarter.

Another Howell touchdown pass pushed UNC past the 50-point mark—their first time scoring 50 or more against UVA since 1943—and sealed Virginia’s fate. Kemp scored on an Armstrong pass with just over seven minutes to play and Armstrong found Jelani Woods for a two-point conversion to bring the Hoos back within two scores. But Ty Chandler found the end zone again to give Carolina their highest point total against Virginia since the first FDR administration (1936).

Virginia returns to action Friday night at Scott Stadium to take on Wake Forest.