CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- As fans lined the entrance into Scott Stadium, Virginia coaches and players walked in with a joy and gratefulness to play the game for the first time since November's tragedy in front of their biggest supporters.

"Just being able to play football again was a blessing being the tragedy that we had," sophomore wide receiver JR Wilson said, "It made you really reflect and think that any day could be your last day, so I feel like the whole team in general was just really falling in love."

The annual UVA Football Blue-White Game marked the end of spring practice, but also an important step as the Cavaliers move forward after the tragic deaths of former players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D'Sean Perry. Not only were they playing in front of fans and family for the first time since what would become the final regular season game against Pittsburgh, the day before the tragedy, but also a national audience as the only ACC spring game televised live on the conference's flagship network.

"That was my message to the team is we have a chance to change the world today, they truly do because a lot of people are tuning in to see how are the Cavaliers going to respond, what's this team going to look like," UVA head coach Tony Elliott said, "The spirit that I've seen day in and day out, that's all I wanted them to do was show the world the spirit that they have."

Before the game begin, defensive coordinator John Rudzinski took the defense on their normal pregame 120-yard walk towards the hillside endzone. Only this time waiting in the endzone was the special tribute from the grounds crew with "UVA Strong" painted along with the names and numbers of Chandler, Davis Jr. and Perry.

"As I walked to that far end of the stadium where we got to honor three great young men and three great families," Rudzinski said, "There were some tingles up my spine and a lot of emotion for us as a program to be here."

Many players and coaches took time to let the moment soak in from the endzone pregame to the moment of silence taken just before kickoff.

But as soon as the ball was kicked off, the Cavaliers showed a genuine joy and gratefulness for the game. On the first touchdown of the game Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett connected with Wilson for a 68-yard touchdown, which ended with Wilson doing snow angels in the endzone.

The celebrations were numerous on the day, but the one which displayed how far the program had come in five months came in the second quarter. Mike Hollins, five months after being shot in the tragedy, broke through into the hillside endzone for a one-yard touchdown. Hollins celebrated with teammates before placing the ball over the name of his close friend D'Sean Perry before turning to find his younger brother Deuce on the field.

"That's what it's all about," Elliott said about Hollins' touchdown, "When I saw that we got down there a couple times, I called Deuce over and there's not going to be many other times when he's going to see his brother score from that vantage point. Mike's still carrying a lot, he's carrying a lot and he wants to do everything that he can to do things the right way."

Hollins' battle back to return to the field has defined the resilience of Virginia this spring, going from being limited in practice to one of the names at the top of the depth chart as he rushed for 40 yards and a touchdown.

"Just brought chills because to be a part of what took place and to see his progression daily and see how the guys have rallied around him," offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said, "He just kept building and building throughout the spring and to culminate the way he did today, it's like a script that was written out."

Elliott addressed the crowd after the game with Hollins by his side, thanking the crowd for their support of the program over the last five months and Hollins did the same.

"It's great to be back, it's a blessing and I want to thank all you Wahoo fans for coming out and supporting us," Hollins said in a message posted to Twitter.

Muskett has only been with the program for a few months, but sits next to Hollins in the locker room and has seen his impact firsthand.

"He's one of the hardest working people you'll ever meet in your life," Muskett said, "Seeing him walk in every day and how he interacts with everybody and how mature and how grown up he is it's an inspiration because he has so many eyes on him and so many people that he inspires just seeing how he handles it, the strength that he's displayed, it's awesome to see."

Saturday provided the first step of many with the season opener against Tennessee, the home opener at Scott Stadium against JMU and the one year anniversary on Nov. 13 still ahead. But if the spring game is any sign, Virginia is fully set on "turning tragedy into triumph" as Elliott has said.

"It was a lot of emotion," senior defensive tackle Jahmeer Carter said, "But being grateful day by day and remembering where we started and where we're at now, it's something I think we're really proud of."