I was excited to head to Charlottesville and finally see Lamar Jackson play in person. I figured the Heisman Trophy front-runner would have a big game against, a Virginia squad this has been struggling. What I didn’t expect, was how much I loved everything about the University of Virginia. The campus is picturesque and features outstanding architecture. The athletic facilities are top-notch and an addition to the baseball field is almost complete.
Arriving at the stadium, I immediately made my way through the tailgating scene. Many of the fans I talked to, all talked about how it would be unlikely the Hoos would be able to pull out a victory. But every fan I talked to was excited about the progress they had seen in the football team this year and Virginia fans are hungry for a winner. Virginia has had a tough time in the last decade, suffering seven losing seasons in the last eight years. Mike London was fired at the end of last season, paving the way for the hiring of Bronco Mendenhall from BYU. “Every game, we seem to get better,” said one fan. Another said, “Bronco has made a difference, we just need to give him time.” They all believe that Mendenhall will eventually get them back to a winning tradition.
I walked completely around the stadium, taking pictures and interacting with both Virginia and Louisville fans. There were an estimated 3,000 fans that had made trip from Kentucky. Finally, I made my way to my seat at midfield, a few rows up in the upper deck. The noon kickoff saw me basking in the sun with a game time temperature of 81 degrees!
VIRGINIA FOOTBALL BEGINS
Two graduate students, Charles Wilcox and Richard Reid, are credited with fielding the first ever football team at Virginia. In 1887 after recruiting students to form a team, they took on their first organized team, playing Pantops Academy to a 0-0 tie. In 1888 Virginia would play their first intercollegiate game, a 26-0 loss to Johns Hopkins. The following season they beat Hopkins 58-0, on the way to a 4-2 season.
In 1909 Archer Christian was killed in a game versus Georgetown. Christian, a freshman sensation had already scored a touchdown and kicked a field goal in the first half, before tragedy struck. With five minutes left in the game, Christian broke through the line and was abruptly tackled. He was knocked backwards, while others fell on top of him. He was knocked out and laid motionless on the field. After regaining consciousness, he was heard telling a trainer, “I’m suffering, please do something for me.” He later slipped into a coma and died the next morning. The reported cause of death was the he had been trampled. News of the tragedy made front page news of the New York Times. A total of ten men died in 1909 playing college football, and many called for the game to be abolished. A plea was made in many state assemblies to outlaw college football. The death of Christian and others led to sweeping changes in the sport.
FUN FACTS ABOUT VIRGINIA FOOTBALL
- Virginia joined the ACC in 1953.
- The Cavaliers suffered a 28 game losing streak (second largest in NCAA FBS history). The streak was snapped on opening day in 1961 when the Cavs defeated William & Mary 21-6.
- In 1970 the football team was integrated for the first time. The Cavs signed four African-Americans. Harrison Davis, Stanley Land, Kent Merritt and John Rainey.
- George Welsh leads all Virginia coaches in victories, compiling a 134-86-3 mark, during his 19 year career.
- Virginia had its only 10 win season in 1989, going 10-3.
- Six players have had their numbers retired. They include Jim Dombrowski, Shawn Moore, Bill Dudley, Frank Quayle, Joe Palumbo and Gene Edmunds.
- Three Cavaliers have been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. They include Bill Dudley, Henry Jordan and Earle “Greasy” Neale.
- The Cavaliers are also known as the Wahoos or Hoos.
- After each and every score, the fans can be seen arm in arm singing “The good old song.”
Virginia and Virginia Tech have an intense rivalry and play for the Commonwealth Cup. The Hokies lead the all time series 55-37-5, and have won 12 straight. Virginia’s rivalry with North Carolina is known as the “South’s oldest rivalry.” The schools have met every year since 1919, and North Carolina leads the series 63-54 -4.
Louisville came into the contest ranked No. 5 in the country and a 34-point favorite. The upstart Cavaliers used a solid pass rush to contain Lamar Jackson in the first half, as they clung to a 10-7 halftime lead. Louisville fans were clearly concerned when Kurt Benkert hit Olamide Zaccheaus with a nine yard scoring toss to take a 17-7 lead. Louisville responded with 17 unanswered points, as Jackson hit Reggie Bonnafon with two scoring strikes. Virginia then went on a 14 play, 75 yard drive, that had every fan at Scott Stadium, sitting on the edge of their seats. Facing a fourth and seven, Benkert found Keeon Johnson for 30 yards, to the Cardinal four-yard line. Benkert then hit Doni Dowling for the TD making it 24-23 Cardinals.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall made an immediate decision to go for the two-point conversion to take the lead. The decision paid off, when Benkert connected with Albert Reid, sending Cavs fans into a frenzy. Could it be that I was in the house to see a monumental upset? Cavalier fans sitting behind me pointed out that Virginia might have scored too early. There was still 1:57 left on the clock and perhaps the best quarterback in the land ready to take the field. Jackson opened the final drive with a 18- yard scamper and later hit Cole Hikutini on a crucial fourth and three, setting the stage for a Cardinal win. Jackson tossed a beautiful sideline pass to a streaking Jaylen Smith for a 29-yard TD with 13 seconds left, putting down what had been a valiant effort by the Cavaliers.