Virginia needed to beat Georgia Tech.
While it wasn’t always pretty, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall may develop a few gray hairs by season’s end, the Cavaliers beat the Yellow Jackets, 33-28, on Saturday at Scott Stadium.
UVa used another strong offensive showing to pick up a critical victory in the competitive ACC Coastal Division chase. The Cavaliers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) beat Georgia Tech (2-7, 1-5 ACC) behind an efficient performance from quarterback Bryce Perkins and a decent second half from their defense.
“We’re doing what we need to do to win games,” Mendenhall said. “That’s gratifying, and I’m happy for our staff. I’m happy for our players and our fans and basically anyone associated with UVa football.”
Georgia Tech struck first, using a 59-yard strike from James Graham to Ahmarean Brown. The freshman wide receiver ran a deep post route and broke free behind the defense. Graham’s pass fell perfectly into his hands, and he caught the ball in stride and scampered into the end zone.
Virginia quickly answered back, driving 76 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. A two-yard touchdown run from Wayne Taulapapa tied the game at 7-7 with 8:39 remaining in the first quarter. Two Georgia Tech penalties helped extend UVa’s scoring drive.
Terrell Jana carved up North Carolina a week ago, and he hurt Georgia Tech this week. The former Woodberry Forest star has quickly becoming one of Perkins’ favorite targets. Jana finished the game with nine receptions for 108 yards a week after reeling in 13 receptions for 146 yards.
“It’s always fun, but for me, I just want to win,” Jana said. “As long as we’re winning, that’s all that I care about.”
Jana’s stellar performances the past two weeks have led to wins, which makes them all that much sweeter for the junior.
The Yellow Jackets once again used the passing game to drive down the field against the Cavaliers on their second possession. A 75-yard drive ended with a five-yard touchdown run from Graham, but it was a few busted coverages that allowed the Yellow Jackets to move down the field.
It was another challenging game for the secondary, and Chris Moore went down with an injury in the first half. He was replaced by Heskin Smith, who recently rejoined the team at practice after battling through injuries of his own.
“When he steps on the field, I have no worries,” safety Joey Blount said. “I don’t lean toward his side to help at all. You put him on an island, he’s gonna do his thing. He’s gonna make a play.”
Blount and the secondary settled down after a slow start to the game.
Following a Virginia punt, Blount intercepted an overthrown pass from Graham and returned it to the Georgia Tech 28-yard line. The Cavaliers celebrated in the end zone three players later when Joe Reed caught an out route, made a few moves and reached the end zone from nine yards out.
The first quarter ended with the score knotted at 14-14.
Virginia added a Brian Delaney field goal in the first five minutes of the second quarter to take a 17-14 lead, but the lead could’ve been larger. Virginia settled for the 24-yard field goal after having first-and-goal at Georgia Tech’s five-yard line.
Both teams put on a show in the final minutes of the first half. Georgia Tech used a 25-yard touchdown grab from Malachi Carter to regain the lead with just 44 seconds until halftime. Virginia quickly answered with a 40-yard kickoff return from Tavares Kelly Jr., who took the ball to midfield. Perkins broke free for a 43-yard run to set up a three-yard touchdown run later in the drive, and the Cavaliers took a 24-21 lead into the halftime break.
The second half didn’t feature the same offensive outbursts. Virginia held strong defensively and neither team scored in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter started off with Virginia rolling. The Cavaliers struck first on a 34-yard field goal from Delaney in the first two minutes of the quarter. They extended their 27-21 lead to 33-21 on a three-yard touchdown run from Taulapapa. His rush capped off a four-play, 50-yard touchdown drive. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
Georgia Tech bounced back with a powerful 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 33-28 with 5:30 remaining in the game.
Virginia controlled the ball and burned the final 5:30 to finish off the victory. The Cavaliers are now one win away from punching their ticket to the ACC championship game in Charlotte.
“Two Novembers now going late where we had or have a great chance to win the Coastal, and that’s really what I and we all expect internally,” Mendenhall said.