At several points Saturday afternoon, it looked like Virginia (4-7, 3-4) was going to run away with a victory against the Duke Blue Devils (6-5, 3-4). The Hoos used a suddenly potent passing offense to score touchdowns on their first three possessions, and maintain a two possession advantage until halfway into the fourth quarter. Instead of winning in a rout, the Cavaliers were forced to hold on for dear life against a charging Duke offense. Virginia fan could only breath easy when Wilfred Wahee broke up a Duke pass to the end zone on fourth down with 8 seconds remaining in the game to complete a wild 42-34 win for the home team.
Virginia took the lead on their opening drive when wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus caught a backward pass from quarterback Matt Johns, and immediately flicked the ball 15 yards to tight end Evan Butts in the end zone. The score was set up by a 48 yard screen pass play to Daniel Hamm two plays earlier.
Duke threatened to tie the game on the following drive, but Darius Lattimore picked off Blue Devil quarterback Thomas Sirk's pass in the endzone to snuff out the drive. Immediately following the interception, Matt Johns would find freshman wide receiver David Eldridge 45 yards down the field to put the Cavalier offense within striking distance. TJ Thorpe would score on a 26 yard dash three plays later to make the score 14-0.
Duke switched to backup quarterback Parker Boehme for the next drive, only to fumble the ball on his first snap of the game. Mike Moore would pounce on the ball for Virginia to give the Hoo offense the ball on the 23. Johns would hit Zaccheaus on a 22 yard pass that got the Hoos down to the Duke 1 yard line, and Taquan Mizzell would punch the ball in two plays later to give the Cavaliers a 21-0 lead.
The 21 point lead lasted one play, as Devon Edwards took the Virginia kickoff 94 yards to the house to get Blue Devils on the board. Virginia would drive down deep into Duke territory on the next possession, only to have a pass to TJ Thorpe get batted in the air and intercepted by Breon Borders. Thomas Sirk drove the Devils 69 yards but had to settle for a 36-yard Ross Martin field goal.
Mizzell would fumble the ball on the next drive, but Duke could not move the ball, and punted it back to Virginia. the Hoos took it 79 yards in just 4 plays, capping the drive with a nice 36 yard completion from Johns to Mizzell to make the score 28-10. Duke added a field goal as time expired in the half to get within two possessions at the break.
Virginia would go nowhere on the opening drive of the second half, but would capitalize on a Duke fumble on the Devils' first offensive play of the half. Mizzell scored his second touchdown of the day on a 10 yard scamper that re-established the Hoos three possession margin. Thomas Sirk, however, would respond with a 14 play, 67 yard touchdown drive that featured two fourth down conversions - the second of which on fourth and ten from the UVA 44 yard line.
Not to be outdone, Virginia would strike back with an 88 yard touchdown drive of their own. The drive was buoyed by a roughing the passer penalty on a second down incompletion that saw Duke's All-ACC defensive back Jeremy Cash get ejected for a targetting penalty for a hit on Matt Johns. Three plays later, Johns hit Zaccheaus in stride for a 50-yard touchdown that put the Hoos up 42-20, and seemed to put the game away.
Duke would go three and out on their next drive, but the Hoos turned the ball over on downs on the Duke 31 with 13:02 to play, and Duke would start to rally. Parker Boehme returned to the game, and promptly lead his team 69 yards on a 7 play drive that was highlighted by a 40-yard pass to TJ Rahming down the right sideline. Boehme would hook up with Rahming again three plays later for a 12 yard touchdown pass to pull Duke within two scores.
Faced with trying to maintain a lead, the Virginia offense got super conservative, and essentially became a non-factor in the final quarter. Virginia would gain a measly 23 yards on offense in the fourth quarter, and only gain 5 yards on 11 plays when attempting to kill the clock late. Duke received the ball back via a punt down two scores with 8:17 left in the game, and needed less than a minute to go 68 yards for a touchdown on a 1 yard QB sneak by Boehme to make the score 42-34 Virginia.
Virginia only mustered 4 yards on 5 plays on their next drive and gave the ball back to Duke. duke would move the ball down to the UVA 31, but ultimately turned it over on downs with roughly two-and-a-half minutes to go. Seemingly guaranteed of a win, the Virginia offense sputtered again, moving the ball 0 yards, and punting the ball back to Duke with just under a minute to go, and Duke needing a touchdown and 2-point conversion to tie the game.
Boehme got almost all of the yardage he needed on the first play, as Anthony Nash hauled in a 49 yard pass after beating cornerback Tim Harris down the left sideline to set up Duke at the Virginia 14. Boehme would hit Jela Duncan on an 8 yard completion to give a shot from the Virginia 6 yard line with 8 seconds remaining, but Wilfred Wahee broke up the pass attempt to Nash to secure the win for Virginia.
Matt Johns threw for a career high 344 yards in the win, completing passes to ten different players. Additionally, the Virginia offense capitalized on its scoring chances, as Ian Frye was relegated to extra point duty only for the first time all season. The Virginia defense, however, after giving the Blue Devils fits early on, once again struggled in clear passing situations, letting a desperate opponent claw its way back into the game through a mix of long completions and pass interference penalties against the Hoos.
Virginia will return to the field at noon next Saturday in what is very likely their final game of the season against in-state arch-rival Virginia Tech. Duke will finish their conference schedule at Wake Forest next Saturday at 12:30, and then await their bowl selection.