CHARLOTTESVILLE — Jackson Matteo had more than his fill of losing to Virginia Tech. Five losses during his time as a player at Virginia were followed by back-to-back defeats as a graduate assistant there. So when clock hit zero on UVA’s 39-30 win over the Hokies on Friday, in the euphoric aftermath, as thousands of fans rushed onto the field at Scott Stadium, Matteo became understandably emotional.
He got the chance to hold the Commonwealth Cup, then found Virginia offensive line coach Garrett Tujague, wrapped him in a big hug, and cried.
“This is a long time coming,” Matteo said. “It’s one thing to say that you believe in something and another thing to see it come to fruition. And it finally came to fruition. It’s just overwhelming.”
Matteo, of course, was not alone. Virginia fans young and old had suffered the sting of 15 straight losses in the annual rivalry game. But players felt their own special share of the burden — the failure of the losses in which they participated.And Matteo, he was a part of more than his fair share.
Senior defensive end Eli Hanback understood. He’s spent five seasons at Virginia, the school he grew up rooting for. He was 0-4 against the Hokies before Friday, when his fumble recovery in the end zone sealed one of the best wins in program history.
Not only did it snap the streak against Tech, it gave Virginia its first ACC Coastal Division title and its first trip to the ACC championship game.
Hanback was a kid, watching at the home of a friend who was a Tech fan.
“They’re probably not too happy right now,” Hanback said.
“But that’s OK.”
Here are four takeaways from Virginia’s win.
Bryce Perkins made case for ACC player of the year: It’s hard to imagine the honor not going to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but Perkins at least gave voters something to think about. In the Cavaliers’ biggest game of the year, Perkins knocked Tech on its heels with a pair of long, first-quarter touchdown runs, then led a rally to win in the second half with his passing.
He had his third 300-plus-yard passing game and his third 100-plus-yard rushing effort. Perkins ranks second in the ACC in total yardage, putting up 303 yards per game. He’s been average 389.5 total yards per game over this current four-game win streak.
Not playing a prevent defense was the smart play: On Virginia Tech’s next-to-last possession, with UVA holding a 3-point lead, the Cavaliers could have opted to drop back in a prevent defense, giving up short passes but making sure the Hokies couldn’t connect on a big play. Instead, defensive play caller Nick Howell dialed up pressure, going after Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker.
That resulted in three straight sacks — one from inside linebacker Zane Zandier on first down, one from outside linebacker Matt Gahm on second and finally, defensive end Mandy Alonso’s strip sack on third that led to end Eli Hanback’s fumble recovery in the end zone for a fumble.
Noah Taylor had a huge game: Taylor, a sophomore outside linebacker, had six tackles and a sack in the game. But his biggest plays were turnovers. On a key third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, with the game tied 30-30, Taylor dropped back in coverage and picked off Hooker’s pass on an out route targeting Tayvion Robinson. It was his second interception of the game. Taylor also picked off Hooker’s end-of-the-first-half heave toward the end zone.
Reed still provided a spark: For the second straight season, Tech handled Joe Reed in the return game by not giving him chances to run back any kickoffs. Hokies kickoff specialist John Parker Romo booted all seven of his kicks into the end zone. Six went for touchbacks. Only once did Reed bring the ball out from his own end zone. And while Reed only brought that return to the 21-yard line, the energy of seeing Reed running with the ball seemed to energize UVA and its fans.
But Reed’s biggest impact came with his 42-yard reception in the third quarter, right after Tech had scored to take the lead. That long pass play was a huge momentum gainer for UVA.