It was an ugly night for the offense but thanks to a pair of monumental defensive plays in the second half, the No. 21 Virginia football team survived a scare from in-state foe Old Dominion on Saturday night and kept its record perfect with a 28-17 victory.
Facing fourth-and-1 from its own 29-yard line with more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Old Dominion rolled the dice and put the ball in athletic quarterback Stone Smartt’s hands.
The gamble didn’t pay off.
Virginia safety Joey Blount flew in to drop Smartt for no gain, and two plays later, running back Wayne Taulapapa bullied his way into the end zone from seven yards out. It was his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and gave the Cavaliers their first lead of the game with 10:16 to play.
Trailing by 10 points and having produced fewer than 80 yards of offense by early in the third quarter, the Cavaliers got their first spark from linebacker Zane Zandier.
He was trailing a running back in coverage as Smartt retreated from pressure inside the Monarchs’ 10, stepped in front of a pass and saw nobody between him and the end zone. He crossed the goal line with one hand pointed toward the night sky to cut ODU’s lead to 17-14 and was immediately mobbed by his teammates. Sophomore defensive lineman Aaron Faumui led the charge.
The defense held Old Dominion to 64 rushing yards, marking the sixth straight game in which it hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher, dating back to last season. The Cavaliers also came up with six sacks, which gives them 20 on the season.
The Cavaliers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) managed just 66 yards of offense and 23 yards on the ground in the first half, and they finished with 237 total yards. But the defense limited the Monarchs (1-2) to 24 yards in the third quarter, and UVa scored 28 unanswered points to avoid the upset.
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins added to Taulapapa’s touchdown run with a 25-yard scoring strike in the fourth quarter to Joe Reed, but the Cavaliers had to dig themselves out of a 17-point hole.
A fortuitous bounce on a punt in the first quarter gave ODU a short field and Smartt took advantage of it with his fourth rushing touchdown of the season for the game’s first points.
On their third possession of the game, the Monarchs went up 17-0 when reserve running back Matt Geiger was left all alone on simple route and broke a tackle on a 47-yard touchdown with 10:32 left in the opening half.
A big special teams play gave Virginia’s offense some life in the first half. The Wahoos had barely 30 yards of offense to their credit when Reed cradled the first kickoff of the second quarter near the 10 and returned it 57 yards to ODU’s 33, hurdling a defender near midfield for good measure.
Six plays later, facing fourth-and-two from ODU’s eight, Perkins stepped out of a tackle, stiff-armed his way out of another near the visitor’s sideline and trotted into the end zone to cut the Monarchs’ lead to 17-7 heading into halftime.