The Cavaliers (1-2, 1-2) overcame five turnovers to pick up their first win of the season, a 35-20 Mountain East Conference victory over Concord (1-2, 1-2) at Carl Smith Stadium.
Virginia-Wise helped nullify its turnovers by producing 625 offensive yards, the most since transitioning to NCAA Division II in 2013.
THE FRESHMAN SHINES
True freshman Tanner Bernard made the most of his first collegiate start.
Bernard was the fourth Cavaliers quarterback on the field this season and the third to start in as many games.
Coach Dane Damron planned to redshirt Bernard, but the freshman was forced into action after Virginia-Wise’s first two quarterbacks both suffered long-term injuries in the first half of the season opener two weeks ago.
Last week, redshirt junior Brycen Lee got the start, but after the 33-12 loss to West Virginia State, Damron elected to go with Bernard.
Bernard, out of Brookville High School in Lynchburg, did not disappoint, compiling one of the best starts by a freshman quarterback in program history. He completed 24 of 30 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns and had 42 yards rushing on seven carries.
“That’s a pretty good debut,” Damron said.
Bernard got the word after last week’s loss that he would be starting, giving him exactly a week to get ready for the role.
“As soon as I get done with school, Coach (Klay) Koester helps me a lot. The other quarterbacks help me, too. I go home and do my homework. Then watch film to 11 or 12 at night, go to bed and wake up and do it all over again,” Bernard said. “I was nervous as soon as I got told. But you’ve just got to get over that and fight through and face the adversity and everything. And then, boom, it’s your time to shine.”
Eight of Bernard’s passes went to star receiver Kaian Duverger, who finished with 173 yards and all three TD catches.
“With a weapon like him you just throw the ball to him pretty much and he’ll do the rest for you,” Bernard said.
SENIOR STEPS UP
Duverger, a senior, knew going in he would need a big game with a freshman starting at quarterback.
“I was just mentally prepared and came out and did what I had to do,” he said. “Like (receivers) coach James Guest said, this was in our hands. It wasn’t on the O-line, it wasn’t on the quarterback, it wasn’t on the running backs. He said every day since Monday, for the receivers, it’s in your hands. So we made sure we got the job done.”
The receiving yards and TDs were single-game highs for Duverger.
Duverger’s first touchdown catch of the day came with 34 seconds left in the first half. After Concord took an 8-0 lead halfway through the second quarter on a 15-yard pass from Kyle Akin to Brandon Plyler, the Cavs got on the board on Bernard’s first collegiate touchdown pass, a 15-yard strike to Duverger to cut the Concord lead to 8-7 at halftime.
Bernard connected with Duverger again for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 5:18 to play in the third quarter.
Concord tied the game at 14 less than two minutes later on a 54-yard pass play from Akin to Tywan Pearce, but Virginia-Wise responded even more quickly. On first-and-10, Jamorya Cousin took off straight up the middle on a 70-yard dash to put the Cavs up 21-14 with 3:32 to play in the third.
“I didn’t get touched,” Cousin, a Graham graduate, said of his big scoring run. “I thought I was running so slow because it was unreal. ... The hole was so wide.
“You know, my linemen they work hard every day in practice. And then when we come out to the game, they want to run the ball, they want to show how mean they got, they want to show the work they put in. And I appreciate my linemen for that.”
Cousin finished with 25 carries for 232 yards, the most by any back since Virginia-Wise became a Division II school. He also became the first Cavs running back to rush for over 100 yards in back-to-back games since 2014 when Carlton Griffith accomplished the feat.
The Cavaliers totaled 335 rushing yards, another program high in the Division II era.
CLOSING THE DEAL
Up 21-14 heading into the final quarter, Virginia-Wise increased its lead to two touchdowns when Duverger hauled in his third TD pass from Bernard, a 15-yarder, with 9:52 left to play.
Concord pulled to within 28-20 on a 1-yard run from Josh Maxwell with 5:21 remaining.
The Cavs sealed the win with Von Purvis’ 18-yard scoring run with 1:52 on the clock.
CLEANING IT UP
With five fumbles and 14 penalties, it was far from a perfect game for the Cavs. But it was a victory for a team that’s struggled early in the season.
“A win is a win. This is a whole lot better feeling than what I’ve had the last two weeks,” Damron said. “We’ve got some things to work and some things to clean up. But it’s a good feeling to get a win.”
The Cavs travel to West Virginia next Saturday for another MEC contest. They take on West Liberty (1-2, 1-2) at 1 p.m.