Make it 14: Hokies shut out Cavaliers to win Commonwealth Cup, again
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Virginia Tech’s beat up defense beat on Virginia.
U.Va.’s surprisingly successful season won’t include a win over its rival.
The No. 24 Hokies, as they have most of the year, rode their stifling defense to a 10-0 win over the Cavaliers on Friday night at Scott Stadium, beating their in-state rival for a staggering 14th consecutive time.
“As good a team win as I’ve ever been a part of,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said, citing the number of young and inexperienced Hokies who were forced into action due to injuries.
It was Tech’s third shutout of the season and first against U.Va. since 2011.
Virginia (6-6, 3-5 ACC), bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, still hasn’t beaten the Hokies (9-3, 5-3) since 2003.
That didn’t stop coach Bronco Mendenhall from seeing the positives.
“The gap has closed (between the teams), and that’s obvious to anyone,” the coach said. “I love my team. I love my coaches. We’re making steady progress.”
Junior linebacker Tremaine Edmunds had 9 tackles and 2 sacks to lead a Tech defense playing without three injured starters. That had Fuente staying up late all week wondering if the streak would end at 13.
“I was a little concerned about it this week, to be honest with you,” he said. “We counted on some guys who haven’t played a whole lot of reps, and I didn’t think beating the streak into them was the way to go.
“I’m certainly not diminishing the meaning. I just didn’t want our guys pressured up about it.”
Virginia couldn’t gain yards running the ball and failed to connect on most of its deep passes. Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert, in his final game at Scott Stadium, finished 17 for 34 for 186 yards. Benkert set the school’s single-season passing record, surpassing Matt Schaub’s total of 2,976 in 2002, but Benkert failed to throw a touchdown pass in a game for just the third time this year.
His Tech counterpart wasn’t exactly dazzling but he did win his first start in the commonwealth’s biggest grudge match. Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson went 14 for 21 for 143 yards, with a touchdown pass and an interception.
As the hope of ending their losing streak slipped away in the final moments, the Cavaliers appeared to lose their composure. Senior wide receiver Doni Dowling (Varina High School) committed a 15-yard personal foul when he shoved a Virginia Tech defender to the ground with 8 minutes left in the game.
Shortly after, senior defensive end Andrew Brown was ejected after throwing a punch at Tech’s Deshawn McClease, then colliding with an official.
Virginia Tech’s offense suffered through yet another agonizingly unproductive first quarter. The Hokies were held without a first quarter touchdown for the fifth team this season and now average just 4.8 first-quarter points per game.
But Virginia wasn’t any better, as its first five possessions of the game resulted in punts.
After a scoreless first quarter, Virginia Tech finally put points on the board, getting a 30-yard field goal from backup kicker Brian Johnson. For the second straight week, Hokies senior kicker Joey Slye did not play, despite not appearing on the team’s official injury report.
Johnson’s field goal, the redshirt freshman’s third in the last two games, was the only score in the first half, a period that saw the Hokies’ defense limit U.Va. to just 68 total yards.
Virginia had a chance to even the score late in the first half. Junior cornerback Juan Thornhill jumped in front of a Jackson pass for his fourth interception of the season, tying him for the Virginia team lead. The Cavaliers moved the ball 36 yards in 11 plays, getting to the Hokies’ 23-yard line. But freshman kicker A.J. Mejia, who has yet to hit from longer than 38 yards out, missed the 41-yard field goal try wide right and the half ended with Tech leading 3-0.
Virginia’s first possession of the second half ended in a key turnover. Running back Chris Sharp fumbled and Tech defensive end Houshun Gaines, playing for the injured Vinny Mihota, recovered at U.Va.’s 40-yard line.
Four plays later, Jackson hit tight end Chris Cunningham in the end zone for an 8-yard score, after Cunningham slipped behind the Cavaliers’ defense to give Tech a 10-0 lead with 12:44 left in the third quarter.