ATLANTA — By the time it stepped onto the field for kickoff Saturday, the Virginia football team was out of contention for the ACC Coastal Division title, its slim aspirations entering the weekend erased by virtue of champion Pittsburgh’s win earlier in the afternoon.
Still the Cavaliers had much for which to play, most notably reaching eight wins for the first time since 2011 and for just the second time in more than a decade.
A missed field goal in overtime combined with special teams miscues throughout placed that milestone on hold as well. The Cavaliers fell to Georgia Tech, 30-27 in overtime, at Bobby Dodd Stadium when place-kicker Brian Delaney’s 35-yard attempt sailed wide.
Minutes before Delaney missed for the first time in his three attempts, Wesley Wells provided the decisive points with a 40-yard field goal in front of an announced crowd of 37,543.
“Yeah, we didn’t kick the ball through the uprights at the end,” said Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall while also praising the Cavaliers’ resiliency. “That’s what everyone will see, but the team played really well. We didn’t just play quite clean enough to win.”
The only turnover of the game resulted in a three-yard touchdown run from fullback Jerry Howard and a two-point conversion run by Clinton Lynch to put the Yellow Jackets ahead, 24-21, with 12:30 left in the fourth.
Georgia Tech gained possession at the Virginia 41-yard line when a punt by the Yellow Jackets’ Pressley Harvin III bounced off the leg of the Cavaliers’ Darrius Bratton even as returner Tavares Kelly was telling teammates to get away from the ball.
But the Cavaliers (7-4, 4-3 ACC) tied the score at 24 when Delaney kicked a 30-yard field goal with 4:31 to play. One snap earlier, Virginia faced third and one, and quarterback Bryce Perkins’s throw to the end zone landed incomplete.
There was a great deal of concern on the Virginia sideline in the first half when Perkins got tackled in the end zone and left the field favoring his left leg with help of the athletic training staff.
The junior transfer only missed one series before reentering and, wearing a walking boot postgame, said he would be playing Friday night against archrival Virginia Tech.
After the Yellow Jackets (7-4, 5-3) claimed a 27-24 lead on Wells’s 48-yard field goal with 1:04 left, Perkins directed the tying drive on which Delaney made a 32-yarder with one second left despite a Georgia Tech player getting a hand on the ball.
“I mean it hurts man, for real,” Perkins said, referring not to the pain in his leg but the disheartening outcome. “Those are the games you look back and think of little nitpick things that you could have done better that maybe could have given you an extra three points or an extra touchdown.”
Virginia’s defense, in the meantime, mostly held its own facing the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option attack. Georgia Tech entered with the No. 1 rushing offense in major college football but finished with 268 yards on the ground, nearly 100 fewer than its average.
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall had 107 rushing yards for Georgia Tech, but no other Yellow Jackets player amassed more than 43.
“Very proud of us,” Virginia linebacker Jordan Mack said. “We have nothing to hang our heads about.”
After yielding several long runs to Georgia Tech on the game’s opening possession, the Cavaliers tightened up on defense, forcing the Yellow Jackets to settle for Wells’s 28-yard field goal.
Then Virginia moved ahead thanks to a Perkins’s 13-yard pass to Hasise Dubois on fade pattern to the back right corner of the end zone. Dubois beat cornerback Tre Swilling on the precisely thrown pass to cap an eight-play, 74-yard drive lasting 3:42.
On the Cavaliers’ ensuing series that began at their 1-yard line following Georgia Tech’s 57-yard punt, Perkins attempted to break a tackle from linebacker Brant Mitchell but was sacked and fumbled out of the end zone for a safety.
Perkins immediately clutched his left knee and remained on the ground as athletic trainers examined him. He limped off the field with assistance, barely putting any weight on his leg, and headed for the pop-up medical tent behind the bench.
Circumstances worsened for the Cavaliers when return specialist Juanyeh Thomas took the kickoff following the safety 77 yards for a touchdown. Marshall added a two-point conversion run, and Georgia Tech led again, 13-7, with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
Freshman Brennan Armstrong replaced Perkins when Virginia got the ball next and proceeded to convert a third down and nine with an 11-yard run. On third and three from the Cavaliers 44, Armstrong threw a short pass to Joe Reed down the left sideline.
The speedy wide receiver broke free from a tackle and ran untouched the rest of the way into the end zone with 37 seconds to play in the highly eventful first quarter.
After Georgia Tech got another 28-yard field goal from Wells, Perkins reentered and drove the Cavaliers 77 yards on 10 plays, ending the drive with a nine-yard scoring run around right tackle for a 21-16 lead, showing no lingering effects from what initially appeared to be a potentially serious injury.
“It definitely hurts,” Reed said. “But it’s what we fight for everyday in practice, just giving more and more, giving our effort and letting the outcome happen.”