Somehow, someway, the Virginia Cavaliers prevailed over the Miami Hurricanes on Thursday night in a back and forth game that had fans cursing their fandom one second before declaring their undying love for their school the next.
After Miami won the coin toss and deferred, Brennan Armstrong and the UVA offense took the field looking to get back on track after a sub-par performance against Wake Forest. With a clutch 3rd and 10 conversion on a 15-yard catch from Keytaon Thompson followed up by another near-identical Thompson reception on the next play, the offense got a bit of momentum going. But, after Armstrong missed his football player streaking down the sideline on second down and took a sack on third, the ‘Hoos punted.
Despite the disappointing opener on offense, the Cavaliers’ defense accomplished something that has been incredibly rare this season: forcing a three-and-out on the first drive of the game. As the pass rush got early pressure on first and third down, Miami’s third string quarterback Tyler Van Dyke had little to do.
On the following drive, Virginia got the running game going for real as Wayne Taulapapa rattled off a 26-yard run as the ‘Hoos marched down the field. After a Mike Hollins touchdown run got waved off by a holding penalty, Brennan Armstrong scrambled to the one-yard line on a 14-yard pickup. From there, Taulapapa punched the ball into the end-zone for what was UVA’s most balanced drive of the season so far.
With a seven-point lead, the Virginia defense picked up where it left off, forcing a second consecutive three-and-out after stuffing the Miami running game and giving up anything easy through the air.
Starting their drive at the 13-yard line following Miami’s punt, the ‘Hoos drove to near midfield before being stuffed on 4th-and-seven as the Hurricanes forced an incomplete pass to Jacob Rodriguez on third down.
But, fortunately for UVA, a 51-yard punt from Jacob Finn pinned Miami at its own one yard line. With an obvious run coming, the ‘Hoos stuffed the box and a number of them broke into the backfield to force a safety, making the score 9-0.
Despite relatively favorable field position starting at their own thirty-yard line, Virginia’s next drive stalled out following a sack on 2nd-and-one as Devin Darrington failed to pick up the six needed yards on third down.
Yet, even as the offense struggled to get back in its groove, the Wahoo defense remained stout, holding Miami without a first down for the third straight drive and giving Brennan Armstrong and company the ball at their own 34-yard line.
After an incompletion on first down and a three-yard catch from Taulapapa on second, Armstrong did his best Bryce Perkins impression on third down as he evaded multiple Miami rushers before escaping the pocket and diving for the first down on the sideline. But, on a questionable spot, he came up short as Finn came back on for punt duty.
From there, the Hurricanes put together their most successful drive yet as Miami converted three first downs and reached Wahoo territory for the first time all game. But, a pair of sacks from the Wahoo front-seven made it 4th-and-16 and gave the offense the ball back.
The monotony of poor offensive play continued as the Cavaliers failed to establish any sort of rhythm with the only positive play of the drive coming off a defensive pass interference call on third down which gifted Virginia an uninspiring first down. After another third down incompletion, Finn came on the field for his fifth punt of the game and sent the ball back to the Hurricanes.
With the ball at their 46-yard line to start the drive, the Hurricanes patched together their first scoring drive of the game. With an impressive 36-yard completion down the sideline to Charleston Rambo, Miami was quickly in scoring position and proceeded to run the ball on five consecutive plays before Cam’Ron Harris got the Canes on the board for the first time, cutting the deficit to two points.
In response, Virginia pulled off an impressive two-minute drill. As Armstrong hit Billy Kemp IV on four separate occasions, the ‘Hoos drove down to the Miami 25-yard line before facing a 3rd-and-one. With :50 still on the clock and a pair of timeouts remaining, Armstrong handed the ball off to Mike Hollins who burst through a gap on the right side of the line for the first down before charging ahead, picking up blocks in the secondary, and galavanting into the endzone to put the ‘Hoos up nine, 16-7.
The Wahoo defensive front stuffed the Hurricanes on the ensuing drive, so Virginia entered the half with an oddly comfortable lead after a first half of inconsistent offense but stout defense.
With Miami receiving the ball to open the second half, there was an opportunity for the Canes to pull themselves squarely back in contention. But, any hopes of an early statement were put to naught when Mandy Alonso brought Van Dyke down for a seven-yard loss on first down.
On the ensuing drive, Keytaon Thompson split the Miami defense on his second carry of the game and galloped for a 34-yard gain to the Canes’ 29-yard line. After Brennan Armstrong missed Dontayvion Wicks in the endzone on 3rd-and-six, backup placekicker Brendan Farrell split the uprights for a 43-yard field goal.
With another three-and-out forced by a stout Virginia defense, the Wahoos got the ball pack up 12 points with a chance to put the game out of reach.
Instead, Brennan Armstrong locked in on his target far too quickly on first down and completely missed Corey Flagg Jr. in underneath coverage as the Miami linebacker jumped in front of the Virginia receiver to force the Hurricanes’ first turnover of the night.
The Miami offense capitalized on Armstrong’s mistake in short order as Van Dyke found Mike Harley in the endzone for a 16-yard score.
With the game back to a one score affair, Brennan Armstrong carried the Virginia offense up the field with a 14-yard run on third-and-seven before finding Jacob Rodriguez through the air for a 16 yard gain on the ensuing play. Wayne Taulapapa rumbled for 12 yards before what was perhaps the most insane play of the college football season so far.
HOW DID DONTAYVION WICKS CATCH THAT!?!— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 1, 2021
On what was a poor decision of a throw from Brennan Armstrong, Miami nearly picked off the Wahoo quarterback on the second straight drive. But, instead, the Hurricane corner dropped the ball while falling into the endzone. The ball proceeded to bounce off Dontayvion Wicks’ back, into the air, and then be corralled in by Wicks with one hand, resulting in a mind-boggling touchdown catch for Virginia’s best receiver.
To add insult to injury, Virginia punched the ball in for the two-point conversion from the one-yard line following a Miami personal foul to make the score 27-14.
The ‘Hoos then stuffed the Hurricanes on the ensuing drive as the Cavalier defense held Miami to one single yard before giving the ball back to the offense.
Despite an 18-yard run from Keytaon Thompson on second down, the Virginia offensive attack couldn’t muster up another scoring drive as Jacob Finn was back on duty for his sixth punt of the night.
Starting their drive on the 10-yard line, Miami got a massive spark from Cam’Ron Harris as the running back burst out of the backfield for a 57-yard touchdown run which pulled the Hurricanes back in the game as the extra point cut the lead to six points.
In response, the ‘Hoos rattled off a nine play, 62-yard drive down to the Miami 13-yard line. Buoyed by a 39-yard catch from Dontayvion Wicks down the middle, the drive had the potential to put Virginia back up by two touchdowns. Alas, Ra’Shaun Henry couldn’t reel in a pass from Armstrong in the back of the endzone and Farrell came in for cleanup to make the score 30-21.
The ensuing Miami drive emphasized how significantly Bronco Mendenhall’s defense had worn down throughout the game as the Hurricanes racked up chunk play after chunk play before Van Dyke escaped the pocket on third-and-ten and found the endzone to quash any hopes that UVA would pull away easily.
The next Virginia possession was another disheartening one as, despite a few nice short yardage plays, the Cavaliers couldn’t chain together enough positive yardage plays to advance the sticks. So, the ‘Hoos gave the ball back to the Hurricanes, up two, with 5:29 remaining in the game.
Starting the drive at their own nine-yard line, Miami stretched together a killer, 13 play, 77-yard drive before winding the clock down to three seconds and setting up kicker Andres Borregales to win the game on a 32-yard field goal.
Yet, in dramatic fashion, the football gods had Virginia’s back as Borregales’ kick soared left and pinged off the goalpost and earned UVA its first ACC win of the season and kept the Wahoos’ hopes of an October resurgence alive.