How did UVA win that game? There’s no quit in these ‘Hoos

Keytaon Thompson
Keytaon Thompson. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

The first INT was right at a guy. The second one hit Billy Kemp IV in the hands, popped up in the air. The D stiffened and only allowed field goals, but even so, Louisville led 30-13, and the writing was on the wall.

It was over.

Admit it, you gave up. Probably went out to mow the grass.

Brennan Armstong forgives you.

“Why would you quit anything? When you do all this work to go out and perform, and sometimes, you don’t perform well, but why would you quit? It just doesn’t add up in my head. That’s just kind of how I think. I just keep it simple. Why would you quit if you do all this work for so much time?” said Armstrong, who rallied Virginia from that 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 34-33 win at Louisville on Saturday.

BA followed up his ugly 6-of-12, 30-yard, two-INT third quarter with a 14-of-21, 183-yard, two-TD fourth quarter.

The first fourth-quarter score, a 5-yard TD run by Keytaon Thompson, made it 30-20 with 12:40 left, but it didn’t seem like much at the time, given that the Virginia defense had been eaten alive by Louisville after halftime.

The Cardinals gained 116 yards on the ground in the third quarter, turning a 13-10 halftime deficit into that 30-13 cushion on the strength of a 52-yard TD run by Hassan Hall, a Jalen Mitchell 3-yard scoring run, and a pair of field goals after the INTs.

The way the D was able to stiffen after the INTs was key to what would happen later.

“I thought they were outstanding in the critical moment,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “The difference between this game and, let’s say, the Wake Forest game, was the critical moment stops, and the rest of it was about the same. The critical moment stops are how you have success, and that’s what they did. I hate to say it’s all that matters, but it really matters, and that’s how you have success, and they’re to be credited for that because they’ve been working hard over the past couple of weeks.”

Another critical moment stop came after the KT touchdown that got the margin down to 10. The ‘Hoos forced a Louisville three-and-out to get the ball back to BA and the offense, which marched 73 yards on eight plays, culminating in a 3-yard TD pass from Armstrong to Jelani Woods, that made it 30-27 with 7:49 left.

The most critical stop wasn’t technically a stop. Hall broke through the line on what looked could be a game-clinching TD run, but Darrius Bratton, who had two tackles all day, caught Hall from behind at the UVA 27.

The Louisville drive would stall out, and the resulting 40-yard James Turner field goal left the game in striking distance, at 33-27, with 2:22 to go.

“There’s a lot of statistics that were remarkable, I think, for both teams, but the player that broke the rock for us was Darrius,” Mendenhall said. “He didn’t have a significant role tonight, in terms of number of plays, but there couldn’t have been a bigger play made, and his effort and fortitude and commitment to our team. That play to me, I’m not going to forget as a coach. In fact, I might I only remember a couple plays from that whole game, and that was the one I remember most.”

Armstrong and the offense had one last chance, and made the most of it. BA had to convert a fourth down early in the final drive, connecting with Kemp for 17 yards on fourth-and-6.

Another fourth-down play had Armstrong hooking up with KT to get the ball in the red zone.

Thompson, playing with a broken hand, finished with nine catches for 132 yards, with four catches and 75 yards coming in the fourth quarter.

“They were dropping a lot of eight, and KT was finding holes,” said Armstrong, who finished with 487 yards and three TDs. “When they’re dropping eight, they were able to sit the corners and have guys over top of our outside receivers with Billy and Ra’Shaun (Henry). So, we were able to get KT in the windows, move the ball down the field, and he came up big.”

“There’s no one that I see that makes so many plays in so many ways at critical times, and he’s got a broken hand. It’s hard to catch with a broken hand,” Mendenhall said. “Billy is similar, just the volume of plays they’re making and Ra’Shaun and his emergence with Dantayvion (Wicks) going down. Jelani (Woods) is in and out, so it’s just the entire collective program. Keytaon just seems to be there when you need him. When your heart is stopping and you’re holding your breath and your stress is building, he’s catching another one.”

But he didn’t catch the big one. The final yard and final TD came on a pass from Armstrong to backup tight end Grant Misch, on his only target of the day.

“Grant was my fourth option,” Armstrong said. “I quickly jumped from one to two to three faster than I could even blink, and then I got to four, and then he was coming across on the over, and I found him. I just felt the flow of the defense. It flowed hard to one side, and I got back to the other side, and there he was.”

There were still 22 seconds left on the clock after the TD and extra point.

To Louisville’s credit, QB Malik Cunningham got his team into field-goal range, setting up a 49-yard kick for James Turner, who had already made four kicks on the day.

“I thought, This would hurt if he makes it. But he missed it,” Armstrong said. “Our defense did a good job keeping them away from the endzone. Forty-nine yards is a decent shot for a college kicker. Great job by our defense, making sure he wasn’t too close to make it.”

That’s two straight weeks that the game came down to a last-second field goal that ended up being missed.

You know what you call that?

Winning.

“To Brennan’s credit and our team’s credit, they just kept chipping, climbing, and fighting and coming back and they’re really resilient,” Mendenhall said. “We did prepare starting on Monday for this game to be the equivalent of a 15-round fight with the referee holding both hands, and right at the end, someone’s hand is going up, and sure enough, that’s exactly how it turned out, and a few inches again, determines huge implications.

“It’s ACC football, and for Brennan to come back from the third quarter he had, that’s hard to do in the game, especially when you’re on the road, and I was really proud of him,” Mendenhall said.

Story by Chris Graham


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