Gators chomp Virginia in Orange Bowl

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Bryce Perkins’ last game at Virginia was a loss.

It shouldn’t be how he gets remembered.

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Perkins’ college career ended Monday night, when the Cavaliers were defeated 36-28 by Florida at the Orange Bowl. His numbers were stellar, as usual — 28 of 40 passing with four touchdowns, his 323 yards through the air pushing him to 6,218 passing yards for his two seasons at the helm of Virginia’s offense.

And while that is how he walked off the field for the final time as a collegian, keep in mind all he went through to get to the Orange Bowl. How he went to Arizona State originally, didn’t play as a true freshman and then missed the subsequent year because of a broken neck that could have derailed his football career. He got his game back at a place called Arizona Western Community College, which he led to the junior college national championship game in 2017.

“I continue to be amazed and impressed by Bryce Perkins,” an emotional Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said postgame Monday night.

His amazement is for good reason. Perkins was one of the main reasons why the Cavaliers got to the Orange Bowl, helping them rally for a 4-0 record in November after dropping three games in a four-game stretch midway through the season.

“It meant the world,” Perkins said of his time at Virginia. “Not just what we did, but how we did it. Thinking about all the years coach Mendenhall has been here, and I was here for two of them, how the unbroken growth of this team and the spirit and the bond of this team is unmatched. I was happy, and I am happy, that coach came all the way out to Arizona to recruit me.”

On the surface, it might not have seemed like the perfect match. Perkins was from Arizona. Virginia wasn’t exactly title-contending. Mendenhall was a couple years removed from his long stint at BYU. But Mendenhall knew that he needed a big-time quarterback, and made landing Perkins a top priority.

It worked out.

“The prior two years before Bryce came, we were working so hard on what a culture of excellence looks like and raising hopes and establishing belief,” Mendenhall said. “And it became really clear after those two years that we needed a dynamic player and person to lead our team offensively. … Bryce is the exact person we were hopeful to have lead our program.”

Mendenhall calls Perkins “fiercely resilient.”

There’s no other way to describe him, really.

Perkins got to Virginia in January 2018. The Cavaliers have played 27 games since. He started all 27, got Virginia its first Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title this season — as well as the long-awaited win over archrival Virginia Tech after 15 consecutive losses in the series.

There was no ACC title — Virginia was thumped by College Football Playoff reigning champion and current finalist Clemson — and the Orange Bowl win wasn’t to be either. But he did become Virginia’s all-time total offense leader, in just two seasons. His final pass as a collegian went for a touchdown.

And next up, he hopes, is the NFL

MUSIC CITY BOWL

LOUISVILLE 38, MISSISSIPPI STATE 28

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Micale Cunningham threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 81 more, and Louisville capped coach Scott Satterfield’s debut season by beating Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl.

The Cardinals (8-5) rallied from a 14-point deficit by scoring 31 straight to finish their big turnaround from 2-10 last season. Louisville also finally beat Mississippi State on the field for the first time in six tries, though the series now is tied 3-3 thanks to a pair of forfeits by the Bulldogs in the 1970s.

Mississippi State (6-7) had been trying to finish the season with a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2013 and only the third time since the end of World War II. Instead, the Bulldogs go home having lost a bowl game in each of coach Joe Moorhead’s two seasons.

The Cardinals had four sacks and recovered two fumbles, one returned 31 yards for a TD by safety Khane Pass.

Javian Hawkins led Louisville with 105 yards rushing, and he ran for a TD late. The Cardinals outgained Mississippi State 510-366.

REDBOX BOWL

CALIFORNIA 35, ILLINOIS 20

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Chase Garbers threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score, leading California over Illinois in the Redbox Bowl.

Christopher Brown Jr. ran for 120 yards on 20 carries, and Makai Polk caught five passes for a season-high 105 yards as Cal (8-5) won its first bowl game since 2015.

Brandon Peters passed for 273 yards and one touchdown for Illinois (6-7) in his return after sitting out the regular-season finale with a concussion. Peters, who was shaken up again after diving out of bounds following a scramble late in the fourth quarter, completed 22 of 37 passes and added a team-high 68 rushing yards.

Garbers, who had been in and out of the lineup all season because of a shoulder injury, got going after being sacked on the first play from scrimmage and throwing an incomplete pass on the second. The offensive MVP of the game, Garbers completed 22 of 31 passes for 272 yards with TD passes of 4, 3, 2 and 6 yards. He also scored on quarterback sneak from the 1 early in the second quarter while helping the Bears set a season-high for scoring.

FIRST RESPONDER BOWL

WESTERN KENTUCKY 23, WESTERN MICHIGAN 20

DALLAS (AP) — Freshman Cory Munson kicked a career-long 52-yard field goal with no time left after a rules review to give Western Kentucky a victory over Western Michigan in the First Responder Bowl.

The Hilltoppers (9-4) drove 36 yards in 27 seconds before Munson kicked his third field goal in four tries. The clock had expired and Munson was given the final play after a five-yard defensive substitution penalty against the Broncos for having 12 players on the field. Munson had tied the score at 20 on a 31-yarder with 1:36 to play. He also kicked a 26-yarder and missed from 29.

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Thiago Kapps’ 20-yard field goal with 4:58 to play gave Western Michigan (7-6) a 20-17 lead.

Western Kentucky’s Lucky Jackson had 17 catches for 148 yards and was named the game’s most valuable player.

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