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Fourth-quarter miscues doom Virginia in 40-23 loss to Wake Forest

Fourth-quarter miscues doom Virginia in 40-23 loss to Wake Forest

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Virginia senior tight end Tony Poljan (87) is tackled after a reception by Wake Forest sophomore defensive back Zion Keith (28) on Saturday at Truist Field in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —The Virginia football team put itself in position to win Saturday night.

The Cavaliers used three quarterbacks to make up for missing starter Brennan Armstrong. They saw increased production on special teams, generating decent return yardage. The Wahoos even eclipsed 200 yards rushing in an ACC game for the first time since 2018.

Despite a better effort and a tied game early in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers were unable to avoid the disastrous errors that cost them in the previous three weeks. The result was a disappointing fourth quarter and a 40-23 loss to Wake Forest.

A program that prides itself on achieving “unbroken growth” finds itself on its first three-game losing streak since it lost its final four games of the 2017-18 season.

“There’s not much that’s normal or typical right now, and I don’t see what’s happening currently as a continuation of where we’ve been,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “This is more now a reestablishing, a resetting, and quite frankly, re-finding and identifying what this particularly team can be skilled at, how we have success.”

Sticking with its trend from the first three weeks, UVa (1-3, 1-3 ACC) once again started from behind, taking multiple possessions to ease into the action. The Cavaliers allowed Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons (2-2, 1-2 ACC) to march down the field on their first drive.

Hartman threw a perfect strike to A.T. Terry for a 40-yard touchdown strike, and less than two minutes into the game, Wake Forest led 7-0.

A quick UVa three-and-out and a short punt into the wind gave Wake Forest the ball at its own 48. Hartman once again dialed up the long ball, finding Jacquarri Roberson for a 49-yard gain.

Kenneth Walker III pounded the ball into the end zone from three yards out, and less than four minutes into the game, Virginia trailed 14-0.

That’s when the Cavaliers started to lean on a three-quarterback system. With Armstrong out, Lindell Stone received the starting nod. Keytaon Thompson and Iraken Armstead both took snaps as well, primarily acting as running threats.

UVa stopped the bleeding — and scored its first points in a first quarter this fall — with a 32-yard Brian Delaney field goal. The drive was sparked by 27 rushing yards from Thompson, a quarterback transfer from Mississippi State.

“It felt pretty good, just getting back there and getting to talk to the guys in the huddle; it’s fun,” Thompson, who has played receiver this fall, said about playing at quarterback. “I kind of miss it a little bit.”

Armstead opened the second quarter with the first touchdown of his career as he raced four yards to the left pylon on a designed run. That touchdown drive featured 32 rushing yards from Armstead and brought the Cavaliers to within 14-10.

The teams traded a pair of short field goals before the Cavaliers added a touchdown on a 15-yard run from Wayne Taulapapa. Virginia and Wake Forest entered halftime tied at 20 with both defenses scuffling.

Both teams traded field goals again in the second half before a series of mistakes turned the tide for Virginia.

Delaney made a 42-yard field goal to tie the game at 23 with 13:28 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Momentum quickly unraveled for the Wahoos after that.

Walker III took a handoff to the left side of UVa’s defense, made cornerback Nick Grant miss and outraced everyone to the end zone for a 75-yard go-ahead touchdown, and the Demon Deacons led 30-23.

“We always emphasize explosive plays,” nose tackle Jowon Briggs said.

The emphasis didn’t pay off for the Cavaliers on this Saturday, as the Demon Deacons moved the ball in chunks.

After a Wake Forest extra point, the Demon Deacons pooched a kickoff toward UVa running back Perris Jones. The sophomore never gained control of the ball, fumbling it forward around the 20-yard line. Wake Forest’s coverage unit arrived as Jones put the ball on the turf, and the Demon Deacons won the battle for the ball.

The fumble recovery turned into Walker III’s third rushing touchdown of the night. He found the end zone from nine yards out when he took a snap out of the wildcat formation and patiently waited for his blockers to create a hole leading into the end zone and a 37-23 Wake Forest lead.

The Demon Deacons scored 14 points in 96 seconds of game time, turning a tied game into a commanding lead. A missed tackle and a fumble cost the Wahoos dearly.

UVa attempted to fight back, but its efforts were futile. Stone tossed his second interception of the day with just over seven minutes left, giving Wake Forest a short field leading by 14. The Demon Deacons added a field goal to take a 40-23 lead.

After tying the game, the Wahoos gave up a 75-yard touchdown, fumbled a kickoff and threw an interception.

“Those three plays back-to-back-to-back changed the outcome,” Mendenhall said.

Slow starts have plagued Virginia this fall.

A dreadful finish doomed the Cavaliers on Saturday. ​

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