Virginia started the contest out with the ball and comfortably drove down the field until quarterback Kurt Benkert rifled a short pass to his wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. Zaccheaus caught the ball five-yards downfield, cut inside and then took the ball into the end zone for six points. Zaccheaus’ touchdown gave the Cavaliers a 7-0 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
On the Canes’ following drive quarterback Malik Rosier looked to pass the ball to wide receiver Jeff Thomas but the ball was tipped and intercepted by Virginia safety Quin Blanding. Luckily for Miami, the Cavaliers could not capitalize on Rosier’s pick because Miami linebacker Zach McCloud forced Zacchaeus to fumble and the Canes were able to recover the loose ball.
The Hurricanes were forced to punt following McCloud’s forced fumble and Virginia immediately took advantage. On 1st and 10, Benkert found threw a bomb to his wide open wide receiver Joe Reed for a 75-yard touchdown. Benkert and Reed’s connection gave Virginia a 14-0 lead with 2:12 left in the first quarter.
Miami’s offense finally woke up late in the first quarter when Virginia failed to recover an onside kick which gave the Canes fantastic field position. Rosier and Thomas connected for a 33-yard gain in the air to bring their team inside the red zone. Only three plays later, Rosier threw the ball up to his big receiver Ahmmon Richards, who went up and caught over the defensive back to cut Virginia’s lead to 14-7 with just seconds left in the first quarter.
A couple drives later, Virginia’s defense forced the Canes to punt. Miami’s punter Zach Feagles did not punt the ball as cleanly as he would have liked to but fortunately it worked out for his team because Virginia returner Daniel Hamm muffed the punt, and running back Travis Homer pounced on the ball to give the Canes the ball back. Homer is the first offensive player to wear the notorious turnover chain! On their first offensive play, Rosier threw deep to wide receiver Dayall Harris for a big 36-yard touchdown to tie the game up at 14 apiece with over nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Virginia drove down the field at the end of the half. Benkert threw a perfectly-placed pass over wide receiver Andre Levrone’s shoulder for a 33-yard touchdown reception to give his team a 21-14 lead with 30 seconds in the first half.
Benkert ended the first half with very impressive numbers, completing 17-18 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
Miami went three-and-out on their opening drive of the second half and Feagles’ punt was blocked, so Virginia got the ball on Miami’s 21-yard line. Benkert then rolled to his right and found running back Daniel Hamm for a 26-yard touchdown pass, giving the Cavaliers a 28-14 advantage with 12:21 left in the third quarter.
After Hamm’s touchdown, Miami’s Jeff Thomas returned the kickoff 33-yards to give his team decent field position. Rosier and the Canes’ offense took advantage by driving down the field. On 3rd and 9 on Virginia’s 33-yard line, Rosier rifled it down the field to wide receiver Braxton Berrios, who adjusted to the flight of the ball extremely well to make the catch. This gave the Canes a 1st and goal from the nine-yard line. Rosier then dropped back and found his target, wide receiver Lawrence Cager for a 9-yard touchdown completion. Cager’s reception cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 28-21with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
On Virginia’s first play of their next drive, Benkert threw a interception right into the waiting arms of Miami safety Jaquan Johnson who took the ball straight to the end zone for a huge pick six. Johnson’s interception return earned himself the turnover chain and tied the game up 28-28 with just under 10 minutes in the third quarter.
“Well I know there’s a pick six somewhere in there,” said Miami head coach Mark Richt on what changed the momentum in the game. “That sparks everybody. I love those! You know as soon as he caught it the only guy that could have tackled him stumbled or something. You just knew it was going to be a house call. It was beautiful.”
Miami then took their first lead of the contest when kicker Michael Badgley drilled a 44-yarder right through the uprights giving the Canes a 31-28 lead with less than 30 seconds in the third quarter.
Miami’s next touchdown was set up from a big 36-yard run from running back Travis Homer which gave the Canes 1st and goal inside the 5. Three plays later, Rosier ran the ball into the end zone for an 8-yard quarterback keeper. Rosier’s trip to the end zone gave his side a 37-28 lead with four minutes to go in the game.
Miami’s aggressive defense forced the Cavaliers to go four and out, which gave the Canes’ offense the ball in scoring position at the Virginia 29-yard line. Two play later, Homer broke through a few tackles to get to the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. Homer’s rushing touchdown gave Miami a 44-28 lead with 1:16 remaining in the fourth quarter to finally put the game out of reach.
“We had some special teams issues. We had some defensive issues. We had some offensive issues, but the thing we didn’t have was a heart issue,” said Richt on his team’s performance. “Everybody played with all their heart, and we didn’t have an issue with belief and team unity when things weren’t looking too great. So, that’s the thing I probably appreciate the most about this team of players and coaches.”
The Canes will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers this coming Friday at 12:00 P.M. EST at Heinz Field.