CHARLOTTESVILLE — New starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to true freshman wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. and Virginia’s defense forced seven turnovers as the Cavaliers opened the 2020 college football season with a 38-20 win over Duke, their sixth straight defeat of the Blue Devils.
Davis, a 6-foot-7 rookie from South Carolina, caught four passes for 101 yards and two scores in his collegiate debut, catching an 18-yard and a 26-yard touchdown less than three minutes apart to erase a three-point Duke lead.
Armstrong, taking over for two-year starter Bryce Perkins, finished 24 for 45 for 269 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Wayne Taulapapa played the role of battering-ram back, rushing for 95 yards and two touchdowns and making most of his gains after contact by the defense.
Down 20-17, Armstrong hit Davis for a 39-yard completion up the Virginia sideline, then came right back on the next play and found him in the end zone for an 18-yard score.
Safety Joey Blount came up with the fourth of UVa’s five interceptions on Duke’s next possession, and four plays later, Armstrong hit Davis again, this time for a 26-yard touchdown and a 31-20 lead.
Virginia finished with five interceptions, two fumble recoveries and five sacks.
Blount left the game with under four minutes to play with an apparent left ankle injury.
After months of fighting just to get on the football field, with the uncertainty of COVID-19 hanging over everything they did, the Cavaliers (1-0, 1-0 ACC) finally got to play their opener. The defense lived up to its offseason hype and the offense got in gear just in time to make sure the mask-cladded fans on hand wouldn’t have to hold their breath.
A crowd of about 800 Virginia fans — friends and family of the team’s players and staff — sat in the south stands, clustered in small groups of two or four, leaving three or four empty seats between them and the next pocket of people.
Across the field, in the north stands, a group of about 200 Duke fans sat, spaced even further apart.
They saw an inauspicious beginning to UVa’s season.
Tavares Kelly, taking over for star Joe Reed, who is now in the NFL, fumbled the opening kickoff, fighting for extra yards at the end of his return and Duke (0-3, 0-3) got the ball at the 19-yard line.
But a big third-down defensive stop held the Blue Devils to a field goal. Defensive end Mandy Alonso crashed through the Duke line and forced Deon Jackson to bounce outside, where he was dropped for a 6-yard loss by safety Brenton Nelson.
The Blue Devils settled for a 25-yard field goal by Charlie Ham that put them up 3-0 just 2:52 into the game.
Virginia’s defense stifled Duke until the end of the quarter, when an apparent missed assignment let Blue Devils tight end Jake Marwede slip behind the linebackers, catch a short pass and race 55 yards to the end zone.
Virginia sophomore inside linebacker Nick Jackson had limped off the field a few players earlier and had been replaced by redshirt freshman Josh Ahern.
Marwede’s score put Duke up 10-0 with 1:07 left in the opening quarter.
Virginia’s offense began to find a rhythm in the second quarter, getting on the scoreboard with a 4-yard touchdown run by Armstrong that trimmed the deficit to 10-7 with 12:33 to go before halftime.
Armstrong ran three times for 28 yards on the 10-play scoring drive, the first of three straight possessions that produced points and sent the Cavaliers to the locker room up 17-10.
Taulapapa went in for a 1-yard touchdown with 8:55 left before halftime and Brian Delaney kicked a 34-yard field with 1:50 to go until the break.
Duke dominated the third quarter, going up 20-17 on a 47-yard field goal by Ham and an 8-yard touchdown catch by tight end Noah Gray on a pass from Chase Brice.