The turnover gods finally shined down favorably on UVa on Saturday. Down by four, junior safety Anthony Harris came down with a Taysom Hill pass late in the fourth quarter and lateraled to junior linebacker Henry Coley.
The two combined for a 33-yard return that set the Cavaliers up from 13 yards out, where junior Kevin Parks punched it in on the next play to give the Wahoos a 19-16 lead.
Though BYU had its shots and outgained Virginia 362 to 223, it was the Cavalier defense (and not the much hyped Cougars) that carried the day: The visitors from Provo were 7 of 23 on 3rd down and were forced to punt 11 times.
The 2013 season opener for both teams got off to a rocky start, with each squad struggling offensively early only before a two-hour, nine-minute delay due to lightning in the area suspended the game prior to the beginning of the second quarter.
But with the score tied 0-0, neither team could really claim an advantage. It was BYU which struck first with 5:12 left before halftime thanks to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Hill to JD Falsev that put the Cougars up 7-0. UVa answered back with the first in a series of eye-opening plays: Ian Frye booted a 53-yard field goal (tied for third-longest FG by a Cavalier in school history) to end the first half.
Those three points? Huge.
Momentum stuck with the Cavaliers for a while. UVa got its first touchdown of the season on its first possession of the second half. David Watford connected with receiver Darius Jennings on an 11-yard strike with 12:28 left in the third quarter. About 10 minutes later, UVa scored again thanks to a bad snap and team safety with 2:38 on the clock. The Cavaliers carried that 12-7 lead into the final period of play.
BYU finally started to get going offensively in the fourth. The Cougars covered 92 yards on an 11-play drive that consumed just 2:26. By the time Hill found the end zone on the ground from a yard out (and failed to convert a 2-point attempt), BYU led 13-12.
On the ensuing kickoff, Khalek Shepherd fumbled, BYU recovered, and the Cougars took over on the UVa 27-yard line. Five plays later, thanks to a stellar effort from the Wahoos on D (and a mishandled snap by Hill), Justin Sorensen made a 36-yard field goal and the Cougars led 16-12 with 5:02 to play.
All hope seemed to be lost after UVa was forced into a three-and-out on the following possession.
That's when being in the right place at the right time finally paid off. On a 3rd and 6 from his team's 34-yard line, Hill dropped back and his pass attempt was picked off by Harris. He returned it six yards (officially) before giving it to Coley, who motored some 27 yards.
With 2:41 left on the clock, Parks then took the handoff and scurried 13 yards for the score. With Frye's PAT tacked on, UVa led 19-16.
The Cougars had their chances. Taking over with 2:36 left to play and two timeouts in hand, BYU got one first down before Hill threw four-straight incompletions. UVa got the ball back the turnover on downs, took 1:08 off the clock, and punted to a BYU team out of timeouts and running on fumes.
Setting up shop at the 20-yard line, Hill wouldn't move the ball a single yard on his team's next three plays. It's last-ditch effort, a heave down the sideline that found Ross Apo, may have gained 52 yards but it was 28 yards short of the end zone, securing the Wahoo win.
"I thought [the UVa defense] did a great job of bending but not breaking coming up with big plays when had to, specifically third down stops," London said.
Or rather, he attempted to say. At some point during the game, London's voice gave out. When he had one, he implored UVa fans via the Virginia Radio Network to return to Scott Stadium once the weather delay ended.
"I knew that the BYU fans were not going anywhere," he added. "It was great to see [UVa fans] come back. I appreciate the fans out there for hanging here with us. It was awesome to see."
UVa had five double-digit tacklers: Maurice Canady has 13 (nine solo), Daquan Romero had 12, and Harris (who had a sack in addition to his interception), Coley, and Eli Harold (who added two sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss) each had 11.
London credited Harris for making a great play on the ball and though he clearly wasn't a big fan of the lateral, he called it "obviously" the "turning point" in the game. But he didn't gloss over "the field goal by Frye, the safety; those were plays that happened in the game that really turned everything around for us."
With the win, UVa advances to 1-0 for the fourth time with London as the team's head coach. But this win is much bigger than any of the previous three (two over Richmond, one over William & Mary), particularly with No. 3-ranked Oregon coming to Charlottesville next Saturday afternoon.
"I'm just so proud of this team," London said. "I wish I could tell 'em."