CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — For the Virginia football fans awaiting the return of linebacker Jordan Mack from a first-half suspension, there was an even bigger development on the second-half horizon.
On the second play after intermission, UVa quarterback Bryce Perkins raced 65 yards for a touchdown and gave the Cavaliers a lead that they would not surrender en route to a 38-31 ACC victory over North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
“I’m so proud of them,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall told The ACC Network after the game. “The joy of coaching is to see others happy. To have their work recognized and rewarded in a tough setting on the road at this critical time of year — it’s very gratifying.”
The win makes the Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2) bowl eligible for the third consecutive year, and also keeps them in the driver’s seat for the Coastal Division title.
It was the longest run of Perkins’ two-year Virginia career. He finished with 24 carries for 112 yards, marking his first 100-yard rushing game of the season after he had four games of 100 yards or more in 2018.
He also completed 30 of 39 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns.
“This was a big one — we knew what was at stake,” Perkins told the ACC Network following the final gun. “No matter what we faced out there, we just had to keep driving and keep driving.
“My offensive line was doing all the driving.”
Things got tense for UVa when North Carolina got the ball at its 41-yard line with 1:53 left, but Virginia stopped the Tar Heels on downs.
On the preceding drive, Carolina had gotten to the UVa 6-yard line before UVa freshman defensive back Jaylon Baker deflected a pass intended for Beau Corrales in the end zone.
“They’ve been great for us all year,” Mendenhall said of the defense. “Even though we struggled throughout tonight, we made one more play than our opponent — and it was just enough.”
The Cavaliers played the first half without one of their marquee players, Mack, who had incurred a targeting penalty one week earlier at Louisville, resulting in his suspension for the remainder of that game and the first half against the Tar Heels.
A secondary that already had lost preseason All-American cornerback Bryce Hall for the season was also without safety Brenton Nelson, a starter in UVa’s past two games and five times overall.
North Carolina struck first with a 37-yard field goal, but Virginia countered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Perkins .
The Cavaliers upped their lead to 10-3 on a Brian Delaney field goal with 9:18 left in the half, but the Tar Heels added two touchdown passes from freshman quarterback Sam Howell to Dyami Brown and went ahead 17-10 with 2:06 left in the half.
Responding before halftime, Perkins and Co. put together a 13-play, 78-yard drive that lasted only 1:47. Perkins capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Hasise Dubois that enabled UVa to tie the score at 17-17 with 13 seconds left in the half.
Brown’s touchdown receptions went for 47 and 34 yards as he took advantage of UVa defender De’Vante Cross, who was moved from safety to cornerback following the injury to Hall.
UNC had 230 yards in total offense at the half against a UVa team that had been giving up 281.5 yards per game. For the game, the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards — 539 for Carolina and 517 for UVa.
Howell finished 15 of 29 for 353 yards and four TDs for the Tar Heels.