When offensive lineman Bobby Haskins recovered Brennan Armstrong’s fumble in the end zone for a safety and Virginia Tech took a 29-24 lead with a little over three minutes remaining in Saturday night’s Commonwealth Clash, no one expected that Bobby Haskins would have his hands on the ball again just a few minutes later.
In fact, at that point in the game, it seemed unlikely that the Virginia offense would touch the ball again as the Hokies took over in UVA territory and needed to kill just a few minutes off of the clock to win the Commonwealth Cup for a second year in a row. Virginia Tech did eventually finish the job, but not before Connor Blumrick fumbled the ball and gave UVA one more chance to win the game.
Virginia drove down the field to the Virginia Tech 11-yard line with a minute and a half still on the clock. After a Brennan Armstrong two-yard rush and an incomplete pass intended for Keytaon Thompson on the sideline, UVA was faced with third and 8 from the Virginia Tech 9-yard line.
The Hoos needed to traverse only nine yards to beat the Hokies at Scott Stadium for the second time in three years. With one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Brennan Armstrong in the backfield and several dangerous targets with names like Wicks, Henry, Woods, Kemp, and Thompson, Virginia’s odds for cracking the end zone on one of the two next plays were pretty good.
Instead of having Armstrong attempt to throw a touchdown pass, as he has done successfully a UVA record 31 times this season, Virginia opted to have Armstrong roll out to his right before turning around and passing back to offensive lineman Bobby Haskins on the back side.
It was an unexpected play call to say the least, but the Hokies were not fooled.
Dorian Strong made the easy tackle on the 295-pound Haskins for a loss of five yards, which set up a very difficult fourth and 13 from the Virginia Tech 14-yard line. Armstrong threw a pass to Ra’Shaun Henry in the end zone, but he was covered and the pass was high and fell incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs.
As Virginia Tech kneeled it out and hundreds of Hokie fans rushed the field at Scott Stadium, you couldn’t help but think back to the fatal third down play call and think: why?
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall was asked in the postgame press conference about the decision to run the lateral play to Bobby Haskins at that crucial moment in the game. First, he gave Virginia Tech credit for defending the play well.
“They [Virginia Tech] played it really well,” Mendenhall said. “You have to be disciplined to play the play well and they were and they made a nice play.”
When asked if that specific play had been in the playbook for a long time, Mendenhall said, “Maybe the entire season. If not, two weeks, three weeks, it’s been in our plan for a long time. Not necessarily just versus this opponent, but in a critical moment.”
“I liked the chances,” Mendenhall said of the play. “Defensively it’s tough. I’ve had it work against me before. So, yeah I knew it was coming.”
Brennan Armstrong expressed a similar level of faith in the play’s design when he was asked about it in the postgame press conference.
“I was confident,” Armstrong said. “I was actually excited to see what was going to happen.”
Armstrong also reminded us that Virginia ran this exact play in the fourth quarter against Florida in the 2019 Orange Bowl.
“I remember when we ran it against Florida,” said Armstrong. “It got called back, but it worked.”
Bryce Perkins rolled right and threw back to Bobby Haskins, who ran it in for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Perkins threw a forward pass to Haskins, who was ineligible to receive it. The officials reviewed the play and took the touchdown off the board for an illegal touching penalty.
Here’s the play from the Orange Bowl:
And here’s the play from Saturday night against Virginia Tech:
This time around, the throw to Haskins was a backwards lateral so it was completely legal. However, the end result was the same: no touchdown.
I think they [Virginia Tech] were in zone,” said Armstrong. “The corner was just staying on his side. He didn’t really have any responsibility. He just sunk and saw the play happen and just rallied to it.”
Of course, had the play worked and Bobby Haskins ran into the end zone untouched for the game-winning touchdown, we would be having an entirely different conversation about where that play ranks in the list of greatest plays in the history of Virginia football.
But, that is the risk that the UVA coaching staff took when they decided not to throw the ball to one of the Cavalier receivers in the end zone for the third consecutive down.
“It’s one of those plays where, in those games, if you make that play and that works, it’s incredible,” Armstrong added. “It is what it is.”