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Box Score Sept. 27, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Virginia’s players were excited this week, not only for the chance to exceed last year’s victory total, but to show that they have learned to show up for every game and play like underdogs.

That last part might need a little work.

Matt Johns overcame two early interceptions and threw for two touchdowns and ran for one Saturday as Virginia pulled away after a sluggish first half to beat Kent State 45-13.

The Cavaliers (3-2) surpassed their victory total of last season, but not before a tense visit to the locker room at halftime during which the team’s seniors challenged the team to do better.

“Go look yourselves in the mirror and get our heads out of our you-knows-whats because they did things that UCLA and Louisville didn’t do,” defensive end Eli Harold said, summarizing the angry message delivered by linebacker Henry Coley, the most outspoken of four co-captains.

Behind their backup quarterback, who made his first career start with Greyson Lambert sidelined by a right ankle injury, the Cavaliers did just that, outscoring the Golden Flashes 31-3.

Johns was 17 for 28 for 227 yards with two first-half interceptions that killed scoring drives, and said the change in attitude that was needed came just before halftime. That’s when Demetrious Nicholson, playing for the first time in more than a year, went up in the end zone to battle Golden Flashes receiver Chris Humphrey for a pass in the end zone, and Nicholson won.

“It was a definitely momentum but I think going into the locker room, it was something we needed,” Johns said of the interception. “We needed to erase the first half from our minds and we came out in the second half and we did.”

Kent State (0-4), coming off a bye week that followed a 66-0 loss at Ohio State, had Virginia’s defense on edge early, leading 7-0 and 10-7, but had five turnovers leading to 21 points.

They felt good trailing just 14-10 at halftime despite three interceptions.

“You feel good about it, but those are things that catch up to you and when you sit there and you continue to do it, it’s going to continue to catch up to you,” Kent State coach Paul Haynes said.

The Cavaliers, who last season took the ball away 21 times but managed to score just 13 points off those opportunities, have forced 18 turnovers and turned them into 65 points.

Cornerback Maurice Canady got them started against the Golden Flashes, grabbing the first of three interceptions for Virginia and returning it 69 yards for a TD that tied the game at 7.

Johns later hit Khalek Shepherd for a 25-yard touchdown, found Kevin Parks from 11 yards out and scored on a 1-yard run. Parks also scored on a 4-yard run, and Taquan Mizzell had a late 2-yard touchdown run.

Virginia outgained the Golden Flashes 180-46 in the third quarter, getting a 22-yard field goal from Ian Frye and TDs from Parks and Johns.

Johns put the Cavaliers ahead 14-10 with a 25-yard pass to Shepherd. It came one play after a pass interference call gave Virginia a first down, and set the stage for a bizarre sequence.

After a punt by the Golden Flashes, Johns threw an interception to defensive tackle Jontey Byrd, who was all alone, and Colin Reardon gave it right back with a throw that Brandon Phelps picked off. On Virginia’s third play, Johns was picked off by Malcolm Pannell in the end zone.

“It was actually just a very bad throw,” Johns said.

The Golden Flashes switched to Nathan Strock for a series at quarterback, and after an exchange of punts, went back to Reardon late in the half. He quickly took them from their own 46 to the Virginia 13, but on second down, Demetrious Nicholson intercepted his pass for Chris Humphrey in the end zone.

Nicholson was making his first appearance since Oct. 5, 2013, after an extended turf toe issue.

The Golden Flashes dominated early, going 78 yards in six plays on their second possession to lead 7-0. The touchdown came on a 45-yard pass from Reardon to James Brooks, who easily beat Brandon Phelps.

After a second consecutive three-and-out for the Cavaliers, the Golden Flashes were driving again until Canady jumped in front of Reardon’s third-down pass and went 69 yards for a touchdown.

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