Explosive Virginia offense sparks win over Ohio, 45-31

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jordan Ellis rushed for three touchdowns as part of a 38-point first half for Virginia as the Cavaliers beat Ohio 45-31 Saturday in a game played at Vanderbilt Stadium due to Hurricane Florence.
The game was scheduled to be a home game for Virginia but was moved to Nashville earlier in the week with Florence bearing down on the Atlantic Coast. Admission for the game was free, and an announced crowd of 5,438 fans attended the game.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall was pleased that his team showed the resolve needed to get his a victory following a trying week.
“The whole thing is weird. Not knowing whether we were going to play was weird, not know where we were going to play was weird,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Coming a day early and changing hotels twice, and then showing up to an empty stadium that we have no affiliation with, the whole thing was weird.”
The Cavaliers (2-1) scored on their first two offensive plays of the game against the Bobcats (1-1) of the Mid-America Conference. First, Ellis scored from 18 yards out after Virginia took possession of the ball following an Eli Hanback fumble recovery after Chris Peace stripped Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke of the football on the Bobcats’ first possession.
Following a three-and-out from the Cavalier defense, Virginia took possession of the ball on its own 14. The Cavaliers wasted no time, as quarterback Bryce Perkins, who was 25 of 30 for 379 yards passing, completed a short throw to Zaccheaus, who made a tackler miss along the right sideline and raced 86 yards for Virginia’s second touchdown in a span of 1:21.
“It was very big,” Ellis said. “We wanted to come out and start fast. We wanted to start fast, but the thing we need to work on is keeping that up all throughout the game.”
Ohio stayed in the game, going 80 yards in five plays. A 70-yard scramble by Rourke gave the Bobcats first-and-goal at the Cavaliers’ 4, and Malek Irons scored two plays later from a yard out to cut the Virginia lead to 14-7.
Virginia scored three unanswered touchdowns, getting two scores from Ellis. Ellis scored on a 75-yard run on the Cavaliers’ first play of their fourth offensive series to make the score 21-7, then then capped an 11-play, 68-yard Cavalier drive in the second quarter to put Virginia up 28-7.
The Cavaliers took their biggest lead of the day when Perkins found Hasise Dubois for a 10-yard score to cap a nine-play, 44-yard drive with 2:52 left in the first half.
But the Bobcats got back into the game with two touchdowns within a minute. Ohio’s defense forced a fumble by Perkins on a strip sack by Chukwudi Chukwu that teammate Eric Popp recovered at the Virginia 29-yard line. On the first offensive play following the turnover, Rourke fired a 29-yard touchdown pass to Papi White to trim the lead to 35-14.
Popp then came up big again, recovering an onside kick and Ohio cashed in when Rourke threw his second touchdown pass, this one a 36-yard throw to Isiah Cox with 50 seconds left in the half to trim the Cavaliers’ lead to 35-21.
Virginia used the remaining time in the half to get into field goal range, and A.J. Mejia delivered from 32 yards away to give the Cavaliers a 38-21 halftime lead.
The scoring slowed in the third quarter, with Ohio getting the only points of the period, putting together a six-play, 80-yard drive with Irons scoring from a yard out to cut the Virginia lead to 10 points.
Virginia finally put the game away with a 77-yard touchdown pass from Perkins to Zaccheaus with 6:01 left to play.
Ohio’s Louie Zervos made a 45-yard field goal with 2:59 left to account for the final margin.
Virginia: The Cavaliers did much of their damage in the first half, scoring 38 points, many of them with explosive plays. Quarterback Bryce Perkins was 25 of 30 for 379 yards and three touchdowns. Virginia had three different one-play scoring drives in the first quarter. But in the second half, the Cavaliers stalled out, unable to put any points on the board until 6:01 to play in the game.
Ohio: Nathan Rourke struggled in the first quarter, going just 2 of 6 for 8 yards and losing a fumble, but found his rhythm. He finished the day 16 of 31 for 246 yards. Papi White finished with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. He recorded his third consecutive 100-yard receiving game, dating back to Bahamas Bowl at the end of the 2017 season.
Ohio: The Bobcats visit Cincinnati next Saturday.
Virginia: The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play, hosting Louisville next Saturday.