CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Bryce Perkins doesn’t think Virginia has much to celebrate just yet.
Perkins threw for three touchdowns and ran for another and the Cavaliers beat North Carolina 31-21 Saturday, keeping the Cavaliers atop the ACC’s Coastal Division standings and giving them bowl eligibility for the second year in a row, a first for the program since 2005.
“We’re not satisfied,” the junior transfer said. “We want the Coastal.”
Perkins ran for 112 yards, nearly half of that coming on a drive to open the game for the Cavaliers (6-2, 4-1 ACC), who won their third conference game in a row for the first time since 2011.
The drive was critical, coach Bronco Mendenhall said, because it set the tone for the game.
“You can’t play normal defense with Bryce and so once then the defense has to adjust, then the burden shifts back to our offense to acknowledge what they’ve done,” he said.
A year ago, when Virginia reached bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011, there was a wild celebration in the locker room. This time, it was almost a business-as-usual reaction.
“This is the expectation,” wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus said of qualifying for a bowl game. “Nobody really doubted whether we were going to win six or not. It was just what are we going to do after? I’ve been telling people this is not a time to (taper) off and forget how we got here.”
The loss was the fourth straight for the Tar Heels (1-6, 1-4), and ended their four-game winning streak on Virginia’s home field.
Coach Larry Fedora said Perkins makes things very difficult.
“He can really run and it makes you do some things that open up some things in the passing game,” he said. “You have to worry about caging and containing him in a pass rush.”
The Tar Heels, coming off consecutive heartbreaking losses to Virginia Tech and Syracuse, will have to win all their remaining games to make a bowl game.
“Virginia was the better team today,” safety Myles Dorn said. “They don’t have better talent, but they performed better today. They played with more swagger than we did. They just played with more of an itch. They were more ready.”
On a day when Perkins was 18 for 27 for 217 yards, he connected for scores with Joe Reed (27 yards), Hasise Dubois (33) and Evan Butts (16). He also found Zaccheaus 10 times for 108 yards, allowing Zaccheaus to pass Billy McMullen (210) as the school’s career receptions leader with 213.
The Cavaliers led 17-14 at halftime, but Perkins hit Dubois for a 33-yard score early in the third quarter and the defense limited North Carolina to two first downs and 43 yards. Perkins’ 16-yard pass to Butts on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 31-14.
Michael Carter scored from a yard out for the Tar Heels with 7:53 to play, but their last possession ended with a fourth-down incompletion as Nathan Elliott struggled against more pressure and the absence of a running game. They gained just 66 yards on the ground.
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Zaccheaus has had four 100-yard receiving games this season, including a school-record 247-yard, two touchdown effort in Virginia’s 45-31 victory against Ohio on Sept. 15.
“The capability has always been there, but his drive for excellence keeps accelerating to a higher level,” Mendenhall said. “He’s hungrier to be better. He also knows, and we’ve talked really bluntly, that if he doesn’t play well, we don’t have a great chance to win.”
Zaccheaus also had a 29-yard run in the first quarter, pushing him past 500 career rushing yards, and is the only active player in the nation with 2,000 receiving and 500 rushing yards.
North Carolina: Elliott had a very effective first half, completing 12 of 16 throws for 132 yards, but the Tar Heels’ inability to get a ground game going made things more difficult in the second half. After halftime, Elliott was just 11 for 22 for 139 yards.
Virginia: The Cavaliers defense continues to impress, especially at home. The Tar Heels gained 500 or more yards in their last two games but could never get their ground game going until they were way behind. The Cavaliers made a huge play late in the third quarter when Chris Peace sacked Elliott and he fumbled, Bryce Hall recovering at the UNC 35. Virginia has allowed just four touchdowns in four home games.
North Carolina returns home to face Georgia Tech next Saturday.
Virginia continues its three-game homestand by hosting Pittsburgh on Friday night.