CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Louisiana Tech keeps answering the questions about whether it belongs with a resounding yes.
Colby Cameron threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and the ball-hawking Bulldogs scored 34 unanswered points to rally from an early deficit and beat penalty-riddled Virginia 44-38 Saturday.
The Cavaliers nearly got a chance to get the ball back with 1:45 to play, but in a season when everything seems to be going Louisiana Tech’s way, the Bulldogs’ indecision about whether to go for a fourth-and-1 from their 35 caused enough confusion that Virginia got called for a substitution penalty.
That gave the Bulldogs a first down, and it was over.
“You don’t like to see a game end that way,” Tech coach Sonny Dykes said. He said he was inclined to go for it rather than punt because he had little confidence that his defense would be able to stop Virginia, but when efforts to draw the Cavaliers offside failed, the confusion did the same job.
Virginia had sent its punt team on the field, and when the Bulldogs emerged from a timeout with the offense trotting back out, Virginia wound up with 12 men on the field in the scramble to match personnel.
Virginia coach Mike London said Khalek Shepherd, who was standing 50 yards downfield awaiting the punt, should have been given an opportunity to leave the field, but instead, a flag was thrown.
It was Virginia’s 16th penalty, for 145 yards.
“I guess they wanted to see what we were going to do and then do the opposite,” Shepherd said.
For much of the game, the defending Western Athletic Conference champions dominated, turning a 24-10 deficit midway through the second quarter into a 44-24 lead with under 13 minutes to play.
While their maligned defense allowed 625 yards, it was a huge part of why they won, too, with three interceptions of Michael Rocco, each of which led to a touchdown in the 34-point comeback.
Chip Hester returned the final interception 32 yards for a touchdown to make it 41-24.
“You just have to be sometimes in the right place and the football gods bless you,” he said with a wide smile of the ball that Rocco threw right at him with no Cavaliers receiver anywhere close.
Ray Holley ran for two touchdowns for the Bulldogs (4-0), who trailed 24-10 midway through the second quarter, rallied to within 24-20 by halftime and outscored Virginia 21-0 in the third quarter.
“They came out, we took a few to the face, and we just had to weather the storm,” Hester said.
The Bulldogs have outscored teams 73-13 in the third quarter and have scored at least 31 points in a row two weeks in a row at a BSC-level school. Last week, they did it in a 52-24 victory at Illinois.
The Cavaliers (2-3) came out seemingly intent on getting into a wide-open game and flourished into the second quarter. Tailback Perry Jones threw a 36-yard touchdown pass, and Rocco made scoring throws of 73 yards to Shepherd and 2 yards to Paul Freedman until the Bulldogs’ defense made some plays.
The first came with a big assist from Virginia wideout Dominique Terrell, who got hit in the hands by a pass from Rocco, couldn’t pull it in and deflected it to Quinn Giles, who returned it to Virginia’s 25.
The play came right after the Cavaliers put on a goal-line stand, denying the nation’s No. 3 scoring team any points after a 94-yard kickoff return by D.J. Banks had set them up at the Virginia 3.
“Every time adversity hits our team, we know how to take it,” tailback Kenneth Dixon said.
Two plays after Giles’ interception, Holley ran it in from the 16 to make it 24-17.
A field goal by Matt Nelson, one of three for him in the game, made it 24-20 at halftime.
The Bulldogs took command in the third quarter, taking the opening kickoff and driving 73 yards in hurry-up mode to Holley’s 11-yard scoring run.
“We got first downs, which gave us a good rhythm,” Cameron said. “When you get first downs, guys started to click and that what we did,”
After an exchange of punts, Dave Clark intercepted Rocco and returned it to Virginia’s 43, setting up a four-play drive capped by Cameron’s 14-yard scoring run.
Two plays later, Rocco hit Hester, who took it 32 yards for a touchdown.
Rocco, who threw for 265 yards in the first half, was replaced by Alabama transfer Phillip Sims. He threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee, and then a 23-yarder to Adrian Gamble with 2:08 to play, but after Virginia seemingly held and forced a likely punt, the illegal substitution penalty doomed them.
“You can’t have however many penalties we had,” London said.
Cameron finished 23 for 36 for 218 yards and a 3-yard first-quarter touchdown to R.P. Stuart. It was Cameron’s 12th touchdown pass of the season, and he still has not thrown an interception.
Virginia’s halftime lead came despite being penalized 10 times for 95 yards and giving up 10 points in the final 3:02.
The Cavaliers also tried a surprise onside kick after going ahead 14-3, but Louisiana Tech recovered, got a 15-yard personal foul penalty to set them up at Virginia’s 39 and drove for a TD that made it 14-10.
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