CHARLOTTESVILLE — In a prelim to next Saturday’s meeting with 15-time ACC football champion Florida State, Virginia had enough big plays in the first quarter Friday to last the night.
Wide receiver and return specialist Joe Reed caught a 40-yard touchdown pass on UVa’s first possession and added a 100-yard kickoff return before halftime as the Cavaliers romped to a 52-17 victory over William and Mary.
“It was another sign of progress for our program,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall told the ACC Network. “… We managed our emotions and looked like we’re becoming a more mature football team.”
It wasn’t just the offense.
Junior cornerback Nick Grant had an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown as the Cavaliers built a 21-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third as UVa took a 35-3 halftime lead that resulted in a seemingly successful debut for such “enhancements” as beer gardens inside the East and West gates.
Virginia outgained William and Mary 258-49 in the first half in front of a crowd listed at 45,250, including 10,000 students according to UVa estimates. Virginia also had beaten William and Mary 28-10 in the 2016 opener, when the crowd figure given was listed at 38,828.
The Cavaliers took the second half kickoff Friday and marched 70 yards on a drive that culminated in a 9-yard touchdown run by freshman Mike Hollins on his first college carry.
That made it 42-10 and the Cavaliers pulled Perkins with six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Mendenhall had made no secret of his desire to get playing time for backup quarterback Brennan Armstrong.
Perkins finished 16 of 26 for 192 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a rushing TD.
Armstrong was intercepted on his series by the Tribe’s Arman Jones, whose 47-yard return resulted in William and Mary’s first touchdown of the night.
William and Mary later added its first offensive touchdown of the game, that coming largely against UVa’s second-team defense.
Armstrong atoned for the interception by taking the Cavaliers down the field for a second Hollins touchdown run. It was set up by a 20-yard pass from Armstrong to Terrell Chatman that gave UVa a first-and-goal from the Tribe 1-yard line.
The game marked the return to Charlottesville of former Virginia head coach Mike London, who is in his first season as the Tribe’s head coach.
London had three separate stints at UVa, coaching the defensive line and serving as recruiting coordinator under Al Groh from 2001-04, then returning from a season with the Houston Texans to serve as Groh’s defensive coordinator in 2006-07.
As a head coach, London subsequently took Richmond to the FCS national championship before moving to UVa as head coach in 2010.
Friday night’s game wasn’t the first time he had come to Scott Stadium as an opponent. He was a player on the University of Richmond team that opened the 1979 season at UVa.
His younger brother, Paul, was a four-year letterman from 1992-95 and was part of a secondary that set an NCAA record with interceptions in 39 consecutive games.