CHARLOTTESVILLE — With an overhauled coaching staff and a quarterback making his first career start, the Virginia football team emerged from a lengthy weather delay to surge past Brigham Young, 19-16, in the season opener on a soggy Saturday in front of an announced 53,310 at Scott Stadium.
The Cavaliers twice erased second-half deficits and took the lead for good on running back Kevin Parks’s 13-yard dash up the middle with 2 minutes 36 seconds left in regulation. The junior bounced off tacklers to score the final points one play after safety Anthony Harris intercepted quarterback Taysom Hill.
Harris was in position for the interception because Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (144 yards, 33 carries) failed to handle a pass that went through his hands. As Harris was getting tackled, he lateraled to middle linebacker Henry Coley, who rumbled for 27 additional yards to set up Parks’s run.
Parks finished with 65 yards on 20 carries, and wide receiver Darius Jennings had game highs of seven receptions and 62 yards for first-year Virginia offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Watford, meantime, went 18 for 32 for 114 yards and a touchdown and interception in his first game action since November 2011, and first-year defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s unit limited Hill to 13-for-40 passing with three sacks and an interception.
Hill had furnished the Cougars with a 13-12 lead on a one-yard run with 6:26 left in the game. Place kicker Justin Sorensen's 36-yard field goal extended it to 16-12 with 5:02 to play.
“I’m just so proud of this team. I wish I could tell them,” said Cavaliers Coach Mike London, whose voice was so hoarse from shouting that it was barely audible during his postgame news conference. “It was a long game. To have a win like that, first game, opening game against a well-coached team is a tremendous boost.”
Virginia took its first lead early in the third quarter courtesy of Jennings’s 11-yard touchdown catch from Watford. The Cavaliers gained possession when Harris swooped in for a punt block before teammate Vincent Croce recovered at the Cougars 16-yard line.
Two runs made it third and five from the 11, and on the ensuing snap, Watford rolled to his right to escape pressure and delivered a strike to Jennings running to the right sideline. A booth review confirmed Jennings touched one foot inbounds to give the Cavaliers a 10-7 lead with 12:28 to play.
A Brigham Young miscue led the final points of the third quarter. Hill was unable to handle the shotgun snap, and after a mad scramble as the ball bounced toward the end zone, Virginia was awarded a safety for a 12-7 advantage.
“This win, it’s the biggest thing we could ask for, especially in the fashion that we got it,” senior guard Luke Bowanko said. “I mean you like to win big, but it’s good to get the confidence no matter the situation we have the ability to come through in the end,”
The game included a delay of 2 hours 9 minutes immediately following the first quarter because of severe weather. When play resumed, Brigham Young struck first thanks to a drive that began at the Cavaliers 32 following a 17-yard punt return by JD Falslev. The senior wide receiver moments later was on the other end of a four-yard touchdown pass from Hill.
The Cavaliers closed the half with a bit of momentum following sophomore place kicker Ian Frye’s career-long 53-yard field goal as time expired. Frye was able to convert the third-longest field goal in team history because Watford finally became comfortable in the pocket, stood tall and delivered throws without duress.
He completed four consecutive passes beginning with a 20-yarder to Jennings. The throw beat triple-coverage over the middle, and by the time Watford added an 11-yard completion on first down to tight end Zach Swanson, Frye was in business at the Cougars 36.
“This right here has been a process,” said Coley, who finished with 11 tackles. “It’s definitely been a process learning new schemes. We’ve been hitting the ground on it since January, so it’s definitely a good experience, and to get this ‘W’ definitely solidifies that we believe.”