PITTSBURGH — The challenge for Virginia on Saturday night was to open the football season with a road victory for the first time since 2003.
On top of that, the Cavaliers had never beaten Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, another streak that was on the line before the Cavaliers knocked off the ACC’s reigning Coastal Division champion 30-14.
Virginia held the Panthers scoreless in the second half and outgained the hosts 310-263.
“Just a few key adjustments [at halftime] were needed,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall told the ACC Network after the game. “We did a nice job making key adjustments. and the turnovers were huge.”
After falling behind at the half, 14-13, the Cavaliers regained the lead on Brian Delaney’s third field goal of the night and made it a two-score game on a 13-yard pass from Bryce Perkins to Hasise Dubois with 8:23 left in the third quarter.
The play was set up when sophomore linebacker Matt Gahm, making his first career start, intercepted Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett at the Panthers 29-yard line.
For much of the night. the Cavaliers were without co-captain Jordan Mack, sidelined with an apparent injury, but players like Gahm and junior safety Joey Blount, who also had a second-half interception, picked up the slack.
Virginia set an early tone when the Panthers, who received the opening kickoff, failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions.
The Cavaliers reached the Pitt 12-yard line on the first possession but had to settle for a 39-yard Delaney field goal
That came with 8:17 remaining in the first quarter and it was less than two minutes later that Virginia stretched its lead to 10-0 on a 2-yard pass from Bryce Perkins to Chris Sharp.
That score was set up by a punt blocked by the Cavaliers’ Noah Taylor that teammate Hasise Dubois returned to the Panthers’ 19.
Pittsburgh, which had a total of 13 yards on 13 offensive plays in the first quarter, saw its fortunes change when quarterback Kenny Pickett connected with tailback A.J. Davis on a 59-yard pass and run to the Cavaliers’ 20.
A 12-yard pass from Pickett to Maurice Ffrench set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Davis for the Panthers’ first score.
UVa stretched its lead to 13-7 on a second Delaney field goal with 10:19 left in the half. But there was enough time remaining for Pittsburgh to take its first lead of the game, 14-13, with 38 seconds left in the half.
The Panthers outgained UVa 164-80 in a first half in which neither team had a turnover.
Perkins was sacked three times in the first half, twice in the second quarter, when he was 3-for-7. He is coming off a 2018 season in which he was sacked 31 times, including a season-high five sacks in a 23-13 home loss to Pittsburgh.
However, the offensive line did not surrender any sacks in the second half.
“We all came together,” Perkins told the ACC Network. “The offensive line knew what they needed to do, and they came out in the second half with determination. The line came out and just dominated.”
The teams were basically trading field goals at that juncture, with Delaney kicking a 36-yarder that put UVa ahead 13-3 with 10:19 remaining in the first half.
Critical on that drive was a 33-yard pass from Perkins to graduate transfer Terrell Chatman, his one-time roommate when they were at Arizona State.
Chatman had a total of three receptions in three years before Saturday.