Virginia cornerback Nick Grant swears up and down that he told anyone who would listen the last couple of years that he was going to turn his first career interception into a touchdown.
On Friday, he fulfilled his promise.
“It was unreal,” Grant said of his first trip into the end zone since his senior year at Courtland High School in Fredericksburg.
Grant’s interception came on William & Mary’s second drive of the game, and he read the play so perfectly, he was in better position to make the catch than the receiver.
“I was just like catch it by all means,” Grant said. “I knew it was a pass. I was thinking dagger, so I was ready for an in-breaking route and I knew they weren’t on the same page when I saw the ball coming so soon. I was like ‘Don’t mind if I do.’”
Grant initially bobbled the pass, but as soon as he secured it, he cut left around a tackler and sprinted down the home sideline behind a wall of teammates, led by 6-foot-7 outside linebacker Charles Snowden and 275-pound defensive end Richard Burney.
“I had a whole convoy,” Grant said. “I’m like ‘I’m personally escorted now.’”
Grant spent the bulk of the past three seasons on special teams, but starting this fall opposite Bryce Hall — who many consider one of the best cornerbacks in the country — he knew he was going to get targeted. He’s already used to it.
“That’s just part of the game, and I knew that before the season even started in fall camp,” Grant said. “Shoot, our offense even targeted me more.”
First-years hit the field
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall spent the offseason gushing about how impressed he was with this year’s freshman class. On Friday, UVa fans got their first look at many of them in live action.
The most impressive debut was that of running back Mike Hollins, who picked up where he left off in high school. He ended his career at University Lab High School in Louisiana as the MVP of the state championship game.
On Friday, Hollins literally scored as soon as he stepped on the field. On second-and-goal from William & Mary’s nine-yard line, he followed his blockers around the left side and into the end zone.
Bouncing off the first tackler he met more often than not, Hollins showed off his physical running style and impressive vision. When all was said and done, he led Virginia with 11 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
“Mike is a hard worker,” sophomore defensive end Aaron Faumui said. “To see him perform like that, I wasn’t surprised because we see it all the time in practice.”
Freshman inside linebacker Nick Jackson saw some snaps in the second half and showed his nose for the ball, and Tidewater product defensive end Ben Smiley got in on a late tackle. First-year linebacker Jairus Satiu also made his debut.
First-year nose tackle Jowon Briggs made his second career start and was much more active than last week. He finished with six tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss.
Special teams spark
A couple of second-years also made their 2019 debuts on Friday, and both added a spark on special teams.
Slot receivers Tavares Kelly and Billy Kemp didn’t make last weekend’s trip to Pittsburgh because of a violation of team rules. Kemp went in Friday made an immediate impact by returning his first punt of the season 18 yards into William & Mary territory. His longest return of the night covered 22 yards and set up quarterback Bryce Perkins’ touchdown pass to graduate transfer Terrell Chatman.
In the fourth quarter, Kelly took his only kickoff return up the home sideline for 28 yards, breaking plenty of tackles along the way.
» Virginia scored more than 50 points for the first time since a 51-3 win over Temple in 2005.
» The Cavaliers’ defense has not allowed an offensive touchdown in 10 of the last 12 quarters.
» Virginia never punted in Friday’s game. It’s the first time that has happened since a win over Duke in 1989.
» Perkins’ interceptions on Friday snapped his streak of 145 pass attempts without one.
» Attendance on Friday was 45,250, and, according to UVa, as many as 10,000 students showed up for the game.