Virginia played hard until the Orange Bowl's final whistle Monday night, making Wahoos everywhere proud as they made it obvious they belonged on the same stage as the big, bad Florida Gators.
Bryce Perkins threw for four touchdowns and 323 yards -- and had perhaps the play of the night on a vintage scramble TD pass -- but it wasn't enough as the Cavaliers fell to the Gators, 36-28 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Perkins did become the all-time total yardage leader in program history (7,910), passing Shawn Moore (7,897), and was the only quarterback to hang at least 300 passing yards on the Gators (11-2) all season. Not even LSU Heisman winner Joe Burrow accomplished that feat.
Hasise Dubois got one last game to showcase those awesome hands and snagged 10 catches for 83 yards and two scores, and Terrell Jana and Joe Reed had seven catches and a touchdown each.
The defense, shorthanded with the loss of Jordan Mack not to mention the previous injuries in the secondary, had a rough first half -- with the exception of a very athletic interception by Nick Grant -- and gave up 24 points, but rebounded nicely in the second half to keep the Wahoos in the game. Unfortunately, the offense went dormant until the fourth quarter after scoring two early touchdowns.
Still, Virginia had a chance late. Down 33-21, UVa was driving to pull within five points and make it very interesting with about five minutes to go. The Cavaliers got to the Florida 13-yard line on a seven-yard run by Wayne Tualapapa when Gators defensive back Brad Stewart Jr., who made the tackle, went down with an "injury." Upon replay, it was quite obvious he faked it, and even Bronco Mendenhall, not a guy that would make that accusation lightly, rolled his eyes. Virginia's mommentum was stopped, and after a run for a loss of four yards by Tualapapa, Perkins forced an errant pass to Dubois down the sideline and was picked off by safety Kaiir Elam. Now, the faked injury doesn't excuse the poor throw, but it was maddening to have a drive's momentum stopped that way. Rightly so, Virginia fans were angry and let Florida have it on social media.
But the defense held Florida to a field goal on the ensuing drive, and then the offense drove down the field again, never conceding the fight to the Gators. Perkins set the all-time yardage mark on the final drive and capped it off the right way, with a TD pass to Dubois, a fitting conclusion to the Wahoo careers of those two UVa greats.
The onside kick failed, and Virginia failed to win the game, but the Wahoos did not fail this season. First time winning the ACC Coastal. First nine-victory season since 2007. Took down Virginia Tech for the first time since 2003. And made the Orange Bowl for the first time and played to within single digits of an 11-win SEC team. There's a lot to be proud of this year and to feel good about going into 2020 despite who the team is losing to graduation.
The team ultimately came up short, and there were plenty of what ifs and wouldas, couldas, shouldas in this game. Virginia had opportunities to win and didn't. When the offense played well, the defense didn't and vice versa. The officiating and sportsmanship left something to be desired. But for tonight, let's just focus on the four outstanding years Mendenhall's first freshman class gave us. From 2-10 to 9-5, just sit back and think about how far that group helped carry the program. Thank you seniors and WAHOOWA.