Sept. 2, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Kurt Benkert said all along that winning was the only acceptable outcome for Virginia in its season-opener against William & Mary.

Benkert was a big part of making it happen Saturday with three touchdown passes in the Cavaliers’ 28-10 victory.

”One-and-oh is better than oh-and-one,” Benkert said, comparing the victory to last season’s 37-20 loss in the opener against Richmond, also a member of the FCS. ”That’s where we wanted to start. We didn’t care what the game looked like. We wanted to come out with a W.”

Jordan Ellis ran for 80 yards and a touchdown and scored the clincher on Benkert’s final pass with 55 seconds remaining. It came minutes after Chris Peace intercepted a ricochet, setting the Cavaliers up at the Tribe’s 25 and setting the stage for the final drive.

”Huge,” center Jake Fieler said of the pick, adding ”there was no point where I felt like `Oh gosh. They might be coming back into this.”’

The Cavaliers gave coach Bronco Mendenhall and their fans a much more encouraging start than a season ago, when Virginia was dominated 37-20 by Richmond on its way to a 2-10 record, and Mendenhall demonstrated an increased faith in his team’s closing ability.

”Once we got the lead, we were taking more chances, being a bit more radical on what we were doing (defensively),” he said.

Benkert hit Andre Levrone for a 34-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-9 play with 1:31 left in the first half, giving Virginia a 14-0 lead. He later hit Olamide Zaccheaus for a 17-yard score, and found Ellis from a yard out on a fourth-and-goal play.

He was 27 for 39 for 262 yards, and the Cavaliers did not have a turnover for the first time in 43 games (Oct. 12, 2013 at Maryland).

The Tribe, who spoiled Virginia’s opener in 2009 with a 26-14 victory, trailed 21-3 before Tommy McKee scored on a 2-yard run with 6:52 to play. Virginia followed with a three-and-out, but the Tribe juggled the ensuing punt, finally recovering after a scramble at its 4.

The interception by Peace came three plays later.

McKee completed 6 of 12 passes for 63 yards. He also led the Tribe in rushing with 89 yards on 15 attempts.

”I do not know if it was really pretty, but I thought it was pretty gutty,” William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said of the junior’s play. The quarterback was involved in a three-way battle for the job into the final week and only came out of the game briefly because he was cramping.

Benkert was 2 for 4 on fourth-down throws, and also missed a wide open Levrone in the end zone on fourth-and-7 from the Tribe’s 29.

”I love it,” he said of having the ball on do-or-die plays. ”I think the coaches trust me, they know I’m going to take care of the football and I’m going to put us in the best situation.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers play the second of three consecutive home games when Indiana visits on Saturday.