Heartbreak City

The good news is that the city of Morgantown will live to see another day. The bad news is that the Mountaineers are now 1-4 after a tough loss to the second ranked Hurricanes of Miami.

Coming in to Thursday's match-up in the Orange Bowl, it appeared as though there was no possible outcome that would leave Blue and Gold supporters disappointed. Little was expected of this squad that has seen more than their share of struggles this season, so a loss to the conference's top team would be easy to shake. And a win? A win was only the stuff of dreams. When the clock finally wound down, however, and the final whistle blew, Mountaineer fans were filled with that sense of despair that seemed so impossible.

The game started fast for the West Virginia offense as the white clad Mountaineers marched the ball from their own 17-yard line all the way to the UM 43. The offense that had seen virtually no production in recent weeks was finding a way to move the ball against the Hurricanes. As quickly as the hopes of the WVU faithful soared, the bubble was burst as Mountaineer quarterback Rasheed Marshall and tailback Jason Colson could not get together on an attempted handoff. Jon Vilma recovered the miscue for the Canes, and the mistakes that doomed the Blue and Gold in Maryland once again haunted Rich Rodriguez's troops. Fortunately, the mix-up did not prove to be costly as the WVU defense answered the call.

The offense once again found its groove later in the first quarter as Rasheed Marshall hooked up with tailback Kay Jay Harris on an 84-yard wheel route to put the ball on the one yard line. A Quincy Wilson run one play later put West Virginia ahead 7-0 midway through the first quarter. Maybe, just maybe, the upset was possible.

West Virginia held onto the lead through the first quarter and the early portion of the second when Miami tied the contest on a Brock Berlin strike to wideout Jason Geathers. Was this the point where the vaunted Hurricanes would run away? Not in this game. The Canes could simply not explode on the WVU defense and would add only a field goal before the half. Mountaineer kicker Brad Cooper added a boot of his own and the Big East rivals went into the half tied at 10. The two kicks were only the beginning of an evening that would put the kicking game into the national spotlight.

The Mountaineer defense bent but never broke, allowing only two field goals in the third quarter. The Canes held a 16-10 lead at the end of three, but the Blue and Gold were still within striking distance.

The field goal exhibition continued into the fourth quarter when Hurricane kicker Jon Peattie tied a school record for field goals in a game with a 30-yard attempt. The kick gave Miami a 19-10 advantage, and it appeared as if the upset was slipping away. The Blue and Gold would need two scores in the final 13:08 to win the game.

Not ready to throw in the towel, West Virginia quickly answered the Hurricane score with a kick of their own to rekindle the Mountaineer hopes. Brad Cooper split the uprights for the second time on the humid evening to pull the deficit to only six with 10:27 showing on the Orange Bowl clock. The two teams struggled to move the pigskin, and the six point Miami lead looked to be enough to propel the Canes to a hard fought victory. West Virginia would need a miracle and that is just what they got.

The clock continued to tick, and Miami was finding some success on the ground against a tired Blue and Gold defense. If the Hurricanes could avoid mistakes, the W would be theirs. But on a first down run, Miami tailback Jarrett Payton, who was filling in for the injured Frank Gore, was hit by WVU defender Leandre Washington and the ball popped loose. Adam Jones, who seemed to be in on every Mountaineer defensive stop, fell on the football at the Miami 48 and the Mountaineers were in business.

Quincy Wilson refused to be denied and converted a third down screen pass into a 33-yard touchdown catch and run to tie the game at 19. ‘Q' ran over a number of Hurricane defenders to give West Virginia the lead and bring the large group of Mountaineer fans in the Orange Bowl to their feet. A Brad Cooper extra point gave WVU the lead with just 2:00 remaining. Was the dream actually coming true? Could the Mountaineers pull the upset in front of a national television audience?

The answer came down to one play. The West Virginia defense, as they had done all night, held the Canes, and the second ranked squad was looking at a fourth down and 13. With Miami out of time outs, the Mountaineers needed only to stop Brock Berlin and company to secure the upset. As top-notch players often do, Miami All-American tight end Kellen Winslow jumped over Leandre Washington to haul in an 18-yard gain. The circus grab not only gave the Canes a first down, it burst the air in the Mountaineers' balloon. Miami proceeded to march down the field, and a 21-yard field goal with just 14 seconds remaining gave kept the Hurricanes undefeated. The boot was Peattie's fifth of the night , a Miami school record.

The Blue and Gold left the field with their heads down, but there was much to be proud of. Coach Rod's troops proved that they could play with anybody, and should have renewed confidence as they head further into conference play.

WVU faces Rutgers a week from Saturday at Mountaineer Field.


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