The University of Virginia Cavaliers (4-2, 2-2) completed a come-from-behind, 34-33 win over the Louisville Cardinals at Cardinal Stadium on the afternoon of October 9. The Cavaliers improved to 4-2 on the season, and 2-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference with their victory over the Cardinals (3-3, 1-2) marking their second straight conference win after beating Miami in a similarly thrilling fashion last week.
Brennan Armstrong and the Cavalier offense put the first points on the board with an opening 8-play, 85 yard touchdown drive, which included a 30-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks and a 14-yard TD pass from Armstrong to senior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV. The Cardinals wasted no time responding, with junior quarterback Malik Cunningham hitting wide receiver Tyler Harrell in stride for a 92-yard touchdown pass. Neither offense was able to put many more points on the board in the first half, with both teams having long-drives end in field goals. Though Virginia took a 13-10 lead into the locker room, the Cavalier offense left points on the board with 282 total yards, and settled for 25 and 22 yard field goals from kicker Brendan Farrell.
The third quarter was one to forget for the Cavaliers on both sides of the ball. The defense struggled to contain an explosive third-quarter Louisville offense, which took advantage of their opportunities and torched the Cavelier defense for 20 unanswered points. The Cav’s defense seemed to have no answer for the Louiville running attack, highlighted by a breakaway, 52-yard TD run by junior running back Hassan Hall to start the half (Hall finished with 162 yards on the ground), and a 3-yard TD run by freshman running back Jalen Mitchell. On the other side of the ball, Armstrong and the Cavalier offense had one of their worst quarters of the season, amassing just 24 yards, while turning the ball over twice on Armstrong’s third and fourth interceptions of the season. The Cavaliers entered the fourth quarter down 30-13, with an estimated 2.6% chance of victory, and in improbable fashion flipped the script on both sides of the football.
The Cavalier offense carried a 10 play, 75 yard drive from the third into the fourth quarter, ending with a 22-yard completion from Armstrong to Henry that set up a 5-yard TD run by senior tight end Keytaon Thompson. After a much-needed, three-and-out defensive stand, Armstrong took over and orchestrated an 8-play, 73 yard touchdown drive, which included a 34-yard toss to Keytaon Thompson and a crucial, 3rd & goal TD pass to graduate tight end Jehlani Woods to cut the deficit to just 30-27. Both defenses did their jobs for the next two possessions, with each team trading punts before Louiville put together a 6 play drive, culminating in a 40-yard field goal, making the score 33-27 with 2:22 to go in the fourth. Armstrong and the offense, now down 6 points on the road in a conference game, took over and put-together the drive of their season thus far. With the game on the line, Armstrong connected with Thompson on two different 4th & longs to keep the drive alive. On 1st & goal from the Louisville 1-yard line, Armstrong, while getting hit from behind, floated a back of the endzone throw to junior tight end Grant Misch with 22 seconds left on the clock to take the lead at 34-33. In a Deja-Vu moment from the Hoos victory over Miami last week, Cunningham and the Louisville offense wisely saved two-timeouts and were able to get into range for kicker James Turner, who missed a 49-yarder wide-left to complete the comeback win for the Cavaliers.
Though it was tough for Virginia fans to sit through the second and third quarters of Saturday Night’s football game, the Hoos saved the game, and arguably their hopes for an ACC championship, with an unbelievable fourth-quarter comeback. Though the defense had some positive moments throughout the game, including three three-and-out stops in the fourth quarter, Brennan Armstrong (40/60, 487 yards, 3TDs) and his offense’s resilience down the stretch of this conference game was the highlight of the day. Now at the half-way point in the season, the Virginia football team is in a good spot going into the next two weeks, with very winnable matchups against Duke (10/16) and Georgia Tech (10/23). If they can improve their defense, especially against the run (233 yards allowed vs. Louisville), they will certainly be able to ride a wave of momentum into their tougher games in the weeks to come (matchups against 19 BYU, 14 Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech). For now, Bronco Mendenhall and his team deserve credit for rebounding after a tough stretch, and putting together two ACC wins going into the half-way point of their season.