CHARLOTTE — Maybe the biggest victory for Virginia in Saturday night’s ACC football championship game came when the Cavaliers forced Clemson to kick a field goal in the second quarter.
By then, the Tigers were well on their way to a 62-17 victory at Bank of America Stadium, marking their fifth straight conference championship.
It was the most points given up by the Cavaliers since they were beaten by Illinois 63-21 in the MicronPC.com Bowl in 1999
Virginia, making its first appearance in the ACC title game, took the opening kickoff and quickly moved deep into Clemson territory on a 46-yard completion from Bryce Perkins to Hasise Dubois.
That gave the Cavaliers a first-and-10 at the Tigers’ 13 and it appeared that UVa was within field-goal range at least; however, Perkins was intercepted in the end zone on third down.
Clemson proceeded to score on its next five possessions — four touchdowns and a field goal — before a crowd of 66,818 that was mostly donned in orange, a school color for both programs.
Third-ranked Clemson (13-0) had 345 yards in the first half as quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 12 of 15 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers were scoring so quickly that Virginia (9-4) had possession for nearly 17 minutes in the first half.
Not long after the UVa band took the field at halftime, it started playing I’m Still Standing, in case anybody was wondering.
It was announced before the game that prolific Virginia punt returner and wide receiver Joe Reed would be unavailable and not long after that, linebacker and senior co-captain Jordan Mack could be seen on the sidelines.
Of the three captains who went out for the coin toss, only Perkins was still available at game’s end — although backup Brennan Armstrong handled UVa’s final possession. Preseason All-America cornerback Bryce Hall has not played since suffering a broken ankle at Miami at midseason.
The Cavaliers stopped Clemson on the first drive of the second half and responded with an 85-yard touchdown drive that was capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Perkins to Terrell Jana that made it 31-14.
Clemson countered with its third touchdown pass from Trevor Lawrence to game MVP Tee Higgins. It was Lawrence’s fourth touchdown pass and Higgins third touchdown reception. Both were championship game records.
Virginia fans had to shudder on the next possession when Perkins took a hit that required assistance from trainers who escorted him from the field. That required him to come off the field for one play, with Brennan Armstrong taking his place and fumbling, although the Cavaliers recovered.
Virginia attempted a fake punt, with punter Nash Griffin connecting with Hayden Mitchell on a pass that fell short of the first-down marker. Clemson quickly took advantage, with Lyn-J Dixon going 23 yards for the touchdown that made it 45-14 after three quarters.
Perkins came into the game with 2,949 passing yards for the season and quickly joined Kurt Benkert as the only two UVa quarterbacks to pass for more than 3,000 yards in the season.
He needed at least 259 yards to pass Benkert and accomplished that early in the fourth quarter.
Clemson pulled Lawrence with 13:11 remaining, at which point he had 16-of-22 for 302 yards and four touchdowns. He was replaced by Matt Brice, who immediately completed a 57-yard pass to Frank Ladson, who got past UVa defensive back Nick Grant, a foil for most of the night.
Clemson’s last touchdown was similar to the Tigers’ first touchdown, with both following interceptions yielded by Perkins. Before Saturday, the Cavaliers hadn’t given up more than 35 points all season, that coming in a 35-20 loss at Notre Dame.
It was the highest point total by a UVa opponent in Mendenhall’s four seasons, surpassing Navy’s 49 points in the 2017 Military Bowl.
Virginia lost at Boise State 56-14 in 2015, Mike London’s final season as UVa coach.