CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Even with a nine-point lead and less than a minute on the clock, Bryce Perkins was not ready to celebrate Virginia finally breaking its Commonwealth Cup drought.
It was only a year ago, in his first experience with Virginia's annual rivalry game against Virginia Tech, Perkins botched a handoff in overtime that allowed the Hokies to extend their dominance in the series after a wild finish.
On Friday, Perkins helped Virginia end a 15-game losing streak to the 23rd-ranked Hokies and earn the program's first trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, with a 39-30 victory.
Virginia began the game as the lone program in the Coastal Division to have never won the division title.
Perkins was a huge part of why the Cavaliers (9-3, 6-2) won, putting up 475 yards of offense. Brian Delaney kicked a go-ahead 48-yard field with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter and Virginia sealed it with a defensive score, causing fans to spill onto the field in a wild celebration.
"I was the last play that ultimately ended up losing us the game. I had to sit with that all year and it hurt, so this game I really wanted to go out there and be aggressive and just give everything I could for the team and not to let them down again," Perkins said.
Perkins ran for two long touchdowns and passed for another for the Cavaliers, who became the seventh different winner in as many years to win the Coastal Division. Delaney also kicked a 25-yard field goal for Virginia, and his last kick made up for a missed extra point early.
"How fitting after a missed extra point early that I thought was going to haunt us," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Hendon Hooker ran for one touchdown and threw for another for the Hokies (8-4, 5-3), who came in having won six of seven games to surge into championship contention. A rallying defense and Hooker's steady play drove the surge, but both came up short against Virginia.
The Cavaliers' winning drive began with Noah Taylor's interception of Hooker at the Virginia 35. Virginia moved steadily downfield, not facing a third down play until it was third-and-15 from the Hokies' 40. Perkins hit Tavares Kelly for nine yards before Delaney's kick.
The history of the series made the crowd cautiously optimistic — like Perkins — until the Hokies' ensuing possession. The Cavaliers sacked Hooker on three straight plays. Mandy Alonso had the last, forcing a fumble that Eli Hanback recovered in the end zone, finally giving the Virginia faithful enough cushion to celebrate the end of the Hokies' decade-and-a-half of domination.
"We got in a situation there at the end of the game where everybody knows we're throwing the ball. That's not our strength," Hokies coach Justin Fuente said.
Virginia led 13-6 after a defensive first half, but then the offenses took over.
"For a while there, it looked like nobody was going to score. Then it looked like everybody was going to score," Fuente said
Hooker ran 34 yards to tie the game at 13. The next three series ended in punts before the Hokies drove 71 yards to take their first lead at 20-13 on Deshawn McClease's 1-yard run. Virginia answered with a 79-yard march, Perkins hitting Joe Reed early in the drive for 42 yards to the Virginia Tech 35 and later connecting with Billy Kemp for the last 30 yards and the tying touchdown.
A 39-yard pass from Hooker to Tre Turner made it 27-20, and three plays into the fourth quarter, Wayne Taulapapa's 2-yard run tied it at 27. Then the rivals traded field goals..
Perkins ripped off touchdown runs of 39 and 67 yards in the first half to make it 13-3. He had 137 rushing yards in the opening quarter.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies had been 6-0 with Hooker as the starter, in part because of a surging defense and Hooker's efficiency. He came into the game having thrown for 10 touchdowns with no interceptions in those starts, and while his streak ended at 124 passes without a pick on a Hail Mary throw to end the first half, the interception by Taylor on a deep ball proved the critical play of the game.
Virginia: Perkins started slowly throwing the ball but used those two huge draw play runs to cause the Hokies to have to adjust. He finally found his rhythm in the passing game and finished 20 of 33 for 311 yards. He also ran for 164 yards with 137 of those coming in the opening quarter.
WORDS OF ADVICE
Delaney said backup kick AJ Mejia gave him some words of encouragement before the critical field goal.
"(He) came over and said, "It's not ending like this. You're writing your own story," Delaney said.
Virginia Tech will await it 27th consecutive bowl invitation, the longest such streak in the nation. Longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster will be coaching his final game for the Hokies, before retirement.
Virginia will represent the Coastal Division against No. 3 Clemson in the ACC championship next Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Texas rallies to win over Texas Tech
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A season of high expectations for Texas still fell far short of its promise, and coach Tom Herman may still shake up his staff.
Yet Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns closed out the regular season with an emphatic victory that will guarantee a winning record regardless of what happens in the bowl season.
Ehlinger passed for two touchdowns, ran for another and the Longhorns rallied from an early hole for a 49-24 win over Texas Tech on Friday.
"We all know this is not where we hoped we would be to begin the season, but to send these seniors out (with a win) that was our mission," Herman said. "Nothing that happened prior to this week mattered."
Texas fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter before Ehlinger and the Longhorns came roaring back. Ehlinger scored his first rushing touchdown in five games, and later connected on scoring strikes of 75 yards to Devin Duvernay and 26 yards to Jake Smith.
Ehlinger finished with 348 yards passing and ran for 83 yards on 10 carries. Roschon Johnson added 105 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Texas (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) started the season ranked in the Top 10 after last season's Sugar Bowl victory and figured among the favorites for the Big 12 title. But the Longhorns stumbled badly over the second half of Herman's third season and a loss Friday would have meant Texas had to win its bowl game to have a winning season.
Texas avoided that kind of December pressure thanks to the Longhorns offense playing its best football since early October.
Herman said Friday's win sent a message that the program is "going to be okay," even as he evaluates whether to make staff changes in the offseason.
"Things are still headed in the right direction," Herman said. "The kids are fighting."
Texas has had at least four losses every season for a decade and went through a stretch of three straight losing seasons before Herman arrived.
Ehlinger, who raised expectations for the program when he declared "We're back!" after last season's Sugar Bowl win, said the program is in a good spot despite its slip backward.
"If you had told Texas fans three years ago that we would have seven wins and a headed to a bowl game and had a chance to win eight, I think people would be pretty happy," Ehlinger said. "Overall, we did a great job."
Texas Tech (4-8, 2-7) jumped out early with two quick touchdown drives as quarterback Jett Duffey was carving up the Longhorns defense. But the Red Raiders also had three drives end on downs deep in Texas territory as Texas Tech's first-year coach Matt Wells chased an upset win to end the season. Duffey passed for 398 yards.
"We needed touchdowns and I wanted to be aggressive," Wells said.
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Texas Tech: The Red Raiders were already suspect on defense and badly missed linebacker Jordyn Brooks, their leading tackler. Brooks is a finalist for Butkus Award given to the nation's best linebacker and he was a pregame scratch from the lineup because of a shoulder injury. His absence was most notable every time Ehlinger took off running up the middle of the field.
Texas: After a four-game slump, the Longhorns played the kind of offense that was on display at the beginning of the season when they started 5-2. Ehlinger passed for more than 300 yards for the fourth time this season and Duvernay topped 100 yards receiving for the sixth time.
Duvernay had 199 yards on six catches, just missing on being just the third Texas receiver to gain at least 200 yards and the first since Jordan Shipley had a school record 273 yards against Central Florida in 2009.
Texas has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks all season. That changed Friday as the Longhorns sacked Duffey four times, the most in 10 games.
Senior defensive tackle Malcolm Roach had one of the sacks.
"Not a lot was on the line," Roach said. "We really had nothing to lose."
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders' season is concluded.
Texas: The Longhorns await their bowl destination.
Missouri gets win over Arkansas
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — In a game started by third and fifth-string quarterbacks, the outcome was decided by one of their backups. It was appropriate enough for Arkansas and Missouri, two teams facing their longest losing streaks in decades.
Fayetteville High School graduate Taylor Powell entered for injured Connor Bazelak in the second quarter and led Missouri over his hometown Razorbacks 24-14, snapping a five-game skid for the Tigers and furthering Arkansas' spiral to 19 straight SEC losses.
Missouri coach Barry Odom ran around the field after the final whistle, congratulating every player he could find individually. They were all emotional just three days after the NCAA's surprising decision to uphold its bowl ban on the team after a nearly year-long appeals process.
"The mental toughness of creating the noise and controlling the noise between your ears, that's up to you alone," he said. "These guys, they responded, they didn't like it. But at the end of the day, nobody cares. It's what we've got. It was about us."
Powell entered in the second quarter after Bazelak, in his first career start, left after injuring his knee on a scramble. Powell's third pass was a 30-yarder, setting up a field goal to give Missouri (6-6, 3-5) a 10-7 lead. It was the first of three scoring drives he directed.
The three drives would have been enough by themselves.
Arkansas interim coach Barry Lunney Jr. started junior Jack Lindsey, who was only placed on scholarship in August. Lindsey began the year as the fifth-stringer but was pushed into duty after ineffectiveness and injury plagued the position to the point that coach Chad Morris didn't win an SEC game in his season-plus before being fired November 10.
Lindsey completed just two of his first 13 passes, though both went for go-ahead touchdowns. The second score came on the first Arkansas drive of the second half after Greg Brooks Jr. intercepted Powell on the first play after the break. Lindsey, who finished 10 of 26 for 75 yards, began the drive at the Missouri 26, ran for 15 yards and, two plays later, found Grayson Gunter uncovered in the corner of the end zone to give the Razorbacks (2-10, 0-8) their first post-halftime lead against in any game since October 12 against Kentucky.
Two drives later, Powell led Missouri on an 8-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that would ultimately be the game-winner. He added a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to former Arkansas wide receiver Jonathan Nance for the final score of the game.
Powell finished 8 of 14 for 105 yards. Fellow Fayetteville High product Barrett Banister had six catches for 60 yards.
"I know what it's like to go back and play your home school," Odom said. "I'm proud of the effort and the focus. It's not easy. It's not easy a lot of times to handle those things."
Arkansas will search for answers for a third straight offseason. The Razorbacks have finished 2-10 for back-to-back years, their worst stretch in school history. They need to find a quarterback after using eight different starters, including five in 2019, over those two seasons. They also need to find a coach as Lunney Jr. isn't expected to be named Morris' permanent replacement.
Lunney Jr., who has been on the Arkansas staff since 2013 with Bret Bielema and was the Razorbacks quarterback in the early and mid-1990s, coached the last two games of the season.
"We obviously didn't play well enough to win. We didn't deserve to win," he said. "But for two weeks, these guys, they were in a very difficult situation, and they very clearly gave everything they had in an effort to win the game tonight. So for that I'm very thankful."
It's also unclear whether Odom will return for a fifth season leading Missouri. He has a 25-25 record after four years and the recent five-game losing streak leaves his job status in jeopardy. He is focused on returning to work Monday, happy with the way his team finished during a trying week that also kept all 23 of Missouri's wins from 2012-13 vacated.
"It wasn't pretty, we all know that, but it was a win and I'll take as many of those as we can get," Odom said. "Wish we had an opportunity to go play in a bowl game somewhere, but they can't take those six from this team."
A QUIET EXIT
Both teams had graduate-transfer quarterbacks begin the season as the starter, with each team's hopes banked on the new face. Only one saw the field in the finale.
Missouri's Kelly Bryant, who dealt with leg injuries for the last month, was unable to go Friday and finished his one season with 2,215 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. Arkansas' Ben Hicks, who hadn't played since November 2, came in for the final Arkansas drive of the game and completed one pass for two yards, finishing his one year with the Razorbacks with 736 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
FEW SAW IT
Attendance at War Memorial Stadium on Friday was 33,961, the lowest total for an Arkansas game in its home away from home since 1996. Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville had already achieved its lowest and second lowest attendance figures since 1997 earlier this year.
SICK AND WOUNDED
Arkansas was without 14 players in its last game. Some, like offensive lineman Colton Jackson and linebacker Hayden Henry had pre-existing injuries. Others, including starting safety Kamren Curl, were late scratches. The university had experienced an outbreak of mumps earlier in the week that affected several students, though Arkansas would not comment on the reasons for some of the missing players.
Missouri: The Tigers have been a thorn for Arkansas since joining the SEC. Missouri has won the last four meetings and six of the last seven between the two teams.
Arkansas: Arkansas is in the midst of the worst two-year stretch in school history, having finished 2-10 in back-to-back seasons and riding a 19-game SEC losing streak.
Missouri: Eyes turn to Odom's status as Missouri's postseason ban keeps them from a bowl bid in the winter.
Arkansas: Lunney Jr. is unlikely to be named permanent head coach and the search for a replacement for Morris is entering its third full week.