CHARLOTTESVILLE — Just when it appeared that Virginia’s football team had “arrived” in some manner, Old Dominion nearly got in the Cavaliers’ way Saturday.
The Monarchs, who had never faced Virginia at Scott Stadium or elsewhere, scored on their first two possessions and didn’t surrender the lead until the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers, who entered the game as 27-point favorites, got a go-ahead 7-yard touchdown run by Wayne Taulapapa with 10:16 remaining and held on for a 28-17 victory over their upset-minded visitors.
The Cavaliers, who trailed 17-0 at one point, raised their record to 4-0 as the Monarchs fell to 1-2.
“They came to the University of Virginia to win a football game and that was apparent from the beginning,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the Monarchs.
There were omens from the start that 21st-ranked UVa would be in for a fight as ODU’s Blake Watson returned the opening kickoff all the way the Cavaliers’ 5-yard line, only to have a holding call send the Monarchs back to their own 22.
The Cavaliers were fortunate to force ODU to kick a field goal after getting as far as the UVa 4. After UVa failed to pick up a first down on its ensuing first drive, the Monarchs took little time to extend their lead to 10-0 with 3:37 left in the first quarter.
Just when it appeared that Virginia had the Monarchs stopped on their next possession, ODU quarterback Stone Smartt spotted running back Matt Geiger coming out of the backfield and they teamed up on a 44-yard touchdown pass that put Virginia in its 17-0 hole.
“We pulled off the comeback, which is way better than the alternative,” Mendenhall said. “Defensively, we adjusted faster mindset-wise and production-wise than we did offensively.
“Old Dominion showed up ready and hungry and eager to play and it took us and my program much longer to reach that same stage. We have a lot of work to do offensively after scoring over 30 points in our first three games in a row.
“If we’re not completely dialed in, today shows what the alternative is.”
Virginia scored with 6:57 remaining before halftime, but even that was an ordeal for the Cavaliers, who faced a fourth-and-goal at the ODU 8-yard line before quarterback Bryce Perkins danced into the end zone for a score.
Nobody could have predicted the kind of first half that unfolded, as the Monarchs outgained the Cavaliers 224-66 and had a whopping advantage in time of possession, as Old Dominion had the ball for 18:54, compared to Virginia’s 11:06.
Neither team had a first-half turnover, which wasn’t a surprise for an ODU team that had just two giveaways in two games, one of them an interception yielded by a reserve quarterback.
The third quarter belonged to the Cavaliers but not because of the offense. The Cavaliers closed to within 17-14 following an interception and 22-yard return for a touchdown by linebacker Zane Zandier.
UVa reached the ODU 19-yard line before sending in Brian Delaney to attempt a game-tying field goal, but it was blocked with 12:27 remaining.
The turning point came on ODU’s ensuing possession. When facing a fourth-and-1 from their 29-yard line, the Monarchs elected to go for a first down. Smartt was stopped for no gain by UVa safety Joey Blount.
The go-ahead touchdown run by Taulapapa came shortly after that, and was followed by a 25-yard touchdown pass to Joe Reed to cap a three-play, 58-yard scoring drive.
The biggest roar from the crowd of 44,573 came with 3:43 left, when Perkins was knocked to the turf and was treated by the UVa’s training staff before heading to the bench under his own power.
After being replaced by Lindell Stone, Perkins returned to the field after missing one snap. He finished 15-of-24 for 175 yards and one touchdown and did not have a turnover.
Junior linebacker Charles Snowden was chosen to “break the rock,” in a postgame ritual that UVa observes after victories. Snowden finished with a game-high 15 tackles, including 3 1/2 tackles for loss, counting two of the Cavaliers’ six sacks.
“There were kind of two camps with Zane Zandier and Charles,” Mendenhall said. “The simple volume of production that Charles had [was why] we went with him.”