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Virginia Tech embraces underdog role entering Commonwealth Cup, but for UVA there's still plenty to prove in rivalry
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Virginia Tech embraces underdog role entering Commonwealth Cup, but for UVA there's still plenty to prove in rivalry

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CHARLOTTESVILLE

Growing up in Ohio, Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong found the Ohio State-Michigan game defined a college football rivalry.

Now, four years into his UVA career, Armstrong has developed an appreciation and intensity for the Cavaliers’ annual clash with rival Virginia Tech.

“It’s my rivalry,” Armstrong said Monday as the two state ACC programs began preparations for Saturday’s showdown at Scott Stadium. “Ohio State-Michigan used to be my rivalry. Now, this is mine. This is who I am.”

Virginia Tech has won 16 of the programs’ last 17 meetings and had, between 2004 and 2018, won 15 in a row. In the 2018 game in Blacksburg, UVA lost 34-31 when star quarterback Bryce Perkins fumbled in the extra period.

That finish could’ve cemented the notion that the Cavaliers couldn’t win the Commonwealth Cup. Instead, a year later, a resolved Perkins and company finally ended the streak with a 39-30 victory in Charlottesville.

That win clinched Virginia’s first Coastal Division title.

Armstrong was a redshirt freshman for that game. Safety Joey Blount, now a fifth-year senior, was in his third season. For Blount, the win injected a new confidence into the program for facing the enemy in maroon and burnt orange.

“Doing it, it proves to everyone that it’s possible,” Blount said. “They have a crown on their head. You can take the crown whenever you want. It’s just really going to depend on how we attack this week.”

Of course, these Hokies come into the game viewed more as a wreck than royalty. At 5-6 and under an interim coach after firing Justin Fuente last week, Tech needs a win Saturday just to become bowl eligible. While UVA, smarting for Saturday’s loss at Pittsburgh, which clinched the division title for the Panthers, is still eyeing an eight-win season, Tech needs a victory just to avoid locking up its third losing season in four years.

Having the Hokies next helps Virginia go from licking its wounds to licking its chops.

“We all know the importance of this week, the Commonwealth Cup game,” interim coach J.C. Price said. “What it means to our program. The Cup is in our possession. We owe it to our seniors to go out and win this game and we still have a chance to extend our season. The only way to get a bowl game is to get a victory this weekend.”

Price has plenty of first-hand knowledge of the rivalry, having played at Tech from 1992 to 1995. The All-America defensive lineman went 2-2 against the Cavaliers, including winning as a senior. That team was wrapping up a Big East title and would go on to upset Texas in the Sugar Bowl.

This year’s team is looking for a win to salvage a disappointing season that resulted in the end of Fuente’s six-year tenure.

In its most recent loss, at Miami, the Hokies played both Braxton Burmeister and Connor Blumrick at quarterback. On Monday, Price was noncommittal about which player would start Saturday. He said that choice would largely be left up to offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen.

Price also had no updates on the status of wide receiver Tre Turner, center Brock Hoffman or guard Lecitus Smith going into what could be the team’s final game of 2021.

It isn’t just the Hokies hoping Turner can play Saturday.

Lost in all the talk of the heated rivalry between the state’s top two FBS programs, said Virginia senior safety Joey Blount, are some of the personal connections between UVA and Virginia Tech players.

“I feel like people tend to overlook the thought of players knowing each other, honestly, having respect for one another,” said Blount, who counted Turner and wide receiver Tayvion Robinson among his closer friends on the Hokies’ roster. “When I look at them across the field from me, I know that they’re going to test my abilities and give me a good matchup, so it’s always respect at the end of the day.”

Price said he’s learned to feel that over the years since his playing career ended.

“As you get older, you mature and you get to know some of these guys on a professional level,” he said. “Sometimes you realize, when you get older, they’re very similar to you. They’re just wearing different colors.”

Still, those colors — like maize and blue versus scarlet and grey for Armstrong as a kid — signal something special.

“Even though I have a relationship and have grown friendly with a couple of those guys,” Price said, “come Saturday, I won’t have much to say to them.”

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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