Johns leads Virginia past Kent State 45-13

(Photo by Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Johns threw for two touchdowns and ran for one.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (VirginiaSports.com and AP) - Matt Johns overcame two early interceptions and threw for two touchdowns and ran for one Saturday as Virginia pulled away after halftime to beat Kent State 45-13.

The Cavaliers (3-2) surpassed their victory total of last season behind their backup quarterback, who made his first career start with Greyson Lambert sidelined by a right ankle injury. His interceptions halted two first-half drives, but he led the way as Virginia took total command in the third quarter.

Kent State (0-4), coming off a bye week that followed a 66-0 loss at Ohio State, scored first and had Virginia's defense on edge early, but wound up with five turnovers leading to 21 points for Virginia.

The Cavaliers, who last season took the ball away 21 times but managed to score just 13 points off those opportunities, have already forced 18 turnovers in five games and turned them into 65 points.

Cornerback Maurice Canady got them started against the Golden Flashes, grabbing the first of three interceptions in the game for Virginia and returning it 69 yards for a TD that tied the game at 7.

Johns hit Khalek Shepherd for a 25-yard touchdown, found Kevin Parks from 11 yards out and scored on a 1-yard run. Parks also scored on a 4-yard run, and Taquan Mizzell had a late 2-yard touchdown run.

Virginia led 14-10 at halftime, then blew the game open in the third quarter. The Cavaliers outgained the Golden Flashes 180-46 in the period, and got a 22-yard field goal from Ian Frye and TDs from Parks and Johns.

Johns put the Cavaliers ahead 14-10 with a 25-yard pass to Shepherd. It came one play after a pass interference call against Kent State gave Virginia a 10-yard gain and a first down, and set the stage for a bizarre sequence.
After a punt by the Golden Flashes, Johns threw an interception to defensive tackle Jontey Byrd, who was all alone, and Reardon threw one to Virginia's Brandon Phelps a few plays later. But on Virginia's third play after regaining possession, Johns was picked off by Malcolm Pannell in the end zone.

The Golden Flashes switched to Nathan Strock for a series at quarterback, and after an exchange of punts, went back to Reardon late in the half. He quickly took them from their own 46 to the Virginia 13, but on second down, Demetrious Nicholson intercepted his pass for Chris Humphrey in the end zone.

Nicholson was making his first appearance since Oct. 5, 2013, after an extended turf toe issue.

The Golden Flashes dominated early, going 78 yards in six plays on their second possession to lead 7-0. The touchdown came on a 45-yard pass from Reardon to James Brooks, who easily beat Brandon Phelps.

After a second consecutive three-and-out for the Cavaliers, the Golden Flashes were driving again until Canady jumped in front of Reardon's third-down pass and went 69 yards for a touchdown.