CHARLOTTESVILLE — Apprehension gave way to joy as Virginia fans stormed the field on Friday afternoon.
The Cavaliers ended a 15-game losing streak in the Commonwealth Cup behind 475-plus total yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Bryce Perkins.
Virginia emerged victorious, 39-30, after trailing on three separate occasions in a wild second half. The Cavaliers picked off Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker with less than five minutes to go. They got into field goal range where Brian Delaney connected on a 48-yarder with 1:29 to go.
The win clinched Virginia’s first ever ACC Coastal Title and appearance in next week’s ACC Championship game against Clemson.
Virginia’s defense stopped Tech on a last ditch attempt to tie the game. Hokies quarterback Hendon Hooker was sacked on first and second down to send the majority of the 52,619 fans into a frenzy.
With fans chanting “UVa! UVa! UVa!” Hooker was sacked again by Mandy Alonso in the end zone where he lost the ball and Virginia recovered for a score.
Tech opened the second half with quick 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Hooker opened the third quarter with a 30-yard throw to Damon Hazelton across midfield.
It the longest play of the game up until that point for the Hokies, but that mark didn’t stand for long. Two players later, Hooker ran it 34-yards for a touchdown to tie the game 13-13 with 12:52 on the clock.
Virginia looked like it had multiple defenders trip themselves up trying to chase Hooker downed as he weaved his way down the field.
Virginia Tech took its first lead at 20-13 with 4:42 left in the third behind a 1-yard touchdown run from Deshawn McClease.
Five different Hokies touched the ball on the eight-play drive. Hazelton had a 20-yard catch, Keshawn King had a 10-yard run for a first down and Tayvion Robinson took a short swing pass 16-yards down to the 1-inch line.
The game turned into a shootout after that.
Virginia answered on its ensuing drive with Perkins hitting Billy Kemp for a 20-yard touchdown. It ended a streak of five three-and-outs (and six straight punts) for the Cavaliers. Perkins ended the offensive drought with a 42-yard pass to Joe Reed, who wasn’t covered on the play.
Hooker and Turner connected for a 61-yard touchdown to put Tech back in front at 27-20 with 48 seconds left in the third quarter. Turner made the contested catch with Virginia safety Nick Grant in coverage.
That lead was short lived with Perkins hitting Terrell Jana for a gain of 37-yards and Hasise Duboise for a gain of 30-yards to put Virginia right back in the red zone. Running back Wayne Taulappa tied the game,, 27-27, with a 2-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
The teams traded field goals to get to 30-30. Keshawn King’s 47-yard kick return helped set up a career-long 47-yard field goal from Tech’s Brian Johnson. Virginia’s Brian Delaney connected on a 25-yarder with 7:35 left in the game after Perkins hit Dubois for a gain of 67-yards.
Perkins put Tech on notice early they were in for a fight.
Perkins confidently marched Virginia down the field on an 8-play, 75-yard opening drive. Perkins, who accounted for all but five of those yards, converted a pair of third and longs on delayed draws before scoring on a 39-yard touchdown run. Perkins sprinted around the left side of the line then cut back across the field for the score with 12:14 left in the first quarter.
The senior quarterback ran for more yards on the drive than any of Tech’s previous three opponents. Perkins’ touchdown also ended the Hokies nine quarter shutout streak.
Virginia went up 6-0 after Delaney missed the extra-point.
Later in the quarter, Perkins had a 67-yard touchdown run. Perkins burst through a huge gap on the right side with Tech blitzing on a third and 2 and went untouched to the end zone to make it 13-3. It was Virginia’s first double-digit lead in the series since 2003, the last time it won the Commonwealth Cup.
Tech hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since its loss to Duke in September. Perkins managed the feat by the end of the first quarter with five carries for 137 yards (27.4 yards per carry).
The only blemish for Perkins was an early interception.
Safety Reggie Floyd and linebacker Dax Hollifield came crashing through the line of scrimmage on a blitz to help force Virginia’s first turnover in four games.
They flattened Perkins as he threw it and the ball went sailing through the air way off target. Whip linebacker Chamarri Conner easily got under the ball for the interception without a Virginia receiver in the vicinity. Conner returned it inside Virginia’s 20-yard line, but a block in the back on the return pushed the Hokies back on their side of the field.
Tech had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Brian Johnson to make it 6-3 with 3:26 left in the first quarter. The Hokies had a fresh set of downs from Virginia’s 7-yard line, but were unsuccessful on three straight rush attempts.
The offensive highlights for Virginia Tech in the first half were limited to a pair of punt returns by Tayvion Robinson. Robinson’s 28- and 35-yard returns were the longest gains of the half of the Hokies.
Robinson’s 35-yard return late in the second quarter set up a 26-yard field goal by Brian Johnson. It was the second time in the half Tech got the ball inside Virginia’s 10-yard line, but failed to come up with a touchdown.
It could have been worse for the Hokies — a near-interception by Joey Blount in the back of the end zone was ruled incomplete.
The Hokies did have two turnovers in the half. Tre Turner fumbled in the first quarter fighting for extra yards near midfield and Hooker threw an interception that counted on a failed Hail Mary as time expired in the second quarter. It was Hooker’s first interception of the season (124 attempts).