A Last Look Back

Louisville was won last year on a handful of plays. Among them, two back-to-back to end the game. Here is an inside look at each, and what the players saw during the action that allowed them to make a key catch and a game-winning stop.

First, the two-point conversion. Leading 44-38 after the first possession of the third overtime, West Virginia was forced to go for two, per NCAA rules. It lined up in a four-wide set, with three tightly bunched to the right side and fullback Owen Schmitt – who had already thrice leveled a tiring Louisville defense – the lone player beside quarterback Patrick White in the backfield. One receiver was to the far right of the formation.

The one far right wide receiver, Brandon Myles, ran a curl that was blanketed. The middle receiver of the bunched set, Darius Reynaud, ran a quick slant to draw the linebacker flow in the opposite direction from the intended play. While Schmitt sealed the now-moving Louisville linebackers inside the tackles, White rolled right and eyed Dorrell Jollah in the back of the north (hospital) end zone. Receiver Jeremy Bruce, tripped up on the play as the ball was thrown while running a simply straight route into the middle of the end zone, had drawn other defensive backs in, and Jollah was open deep in the corner.

"The call was ‘Get to the back of the end zone,'" Jollah joked. "I was suppose to run a little Flag route. As I was running my route, I saw there was nobody in the vicinity, so I just turned around. There was a big, gaping hole and (White) just put it right on the money. You could not have drawn up a better play that what we had called."

Jollah cradled the ball, flipped it to the back judge and then unsnapped the lower buckles on his chin strap before jumping on a few teammates. The jubilation quickly subsided, however, because the Cardinals had another offensive possession remaining. That a pass play was called in such a situation might be a slight surprise, since West Virginia had steamrolled U of L in the overtimes via the run and quick flare passes to Schmitt and tailback Steve Slaton – who had already scored six times, but was not left in on the deciding play.

"We had been working on that particular play, but I did not think we would actually use it, or end up having to," said Jollah, a native of Greensboro, N.C. "Then, it was a great time to use something we had practiced. Now we need it, and we executed it. You can't execute any better than that. It was one of the major things that happened in my life at this University. I knew it helped and it was part of something great at West Virginia."

As did the final play. After Louisville had tied the game a short scoring run off the right side by tailback Michael Bush, head coach Bobby Petrino took Bush out, as did Rodriguez with Slaton, and called a five-wide passing set. Three players were right and two left. And none were open, West Virginia's linebackers and the entire defensive backfield having flooded the end zone, not having to worry about getting beat deep. With no threat of the run other than quarterback Brain Brohm, the defensive play was made easier.

With his receivers covered by a seven-to-five margin, Brohm stepped up in the closing pocket and ran to the right, looking to sneak into the end zone to tie it at 46-46. It never happened. He got through the initial wave and advanced to the two-yard line, but no further.

"I knew if we could force him to run and cover everybody, we had a pretty good chance to stop them," safety Eric Wicks said. "They did not miss much without Bush. There was a lot of emotion in the game, and on the play a lot of guys were pumped up. When we got down, everybody still wanted to fight to win. I remember Brohm rolling out and him pulling the ball down to run. Once we got him to run the ball, I knew we had a good chance to stop them. He is a pocket passer, and if you let him stay there he can pick you apart. We got pressure and made him run."

Right into Wicks, coming up from his goal line spot once Brohm crossed the line of scrimmage. He dropped the signal caller, then raised his arms, starting a mass celebration as the players, coaches and support staff ran onto the field. When Wicks came up from the tackle, he accidentally smacked a Louisville linemen in the face with his arms. The game finally over, Wicks took off his helmet and pumped it a couple times, the most improbable regular season win in the last two years a reality.

There were other huge plays in the game, as there always are in contests of this magnitude. Among them, the Mountaineer players cited then-freshmen place kicker Pat McAfee's lightly-lofted onside kick, later complained about by U of L, that led to his field goal to pull WVU within 24-17, as memorable, along with the fourth down run by White to keep a drive alive just after he had been inserted for injuried starter Adam Bednarik. McAfee's kick was recovered by special teams ace Thandi Smith after a solid block on a Louisville player by safety Aaron Meckstroth, who special teams coach Bill Stewart, noting he felt the play was entirely legal, said "did exactly what I told him to."

White's run, a sign of plays to come from the then-freshmen, came with West Virginia trailing 24-7. Had White's burst up the middle for a gain of 13 on fourth and eight not happened, the Mountaineers would have had a much lesser chance of a comeback. The 46-44 win over the Cardinals was where West Virginia's dream of a Big East championship and BCS berth began and, whether the Big East will admit it or not, the solid future of the conference emerged. The win eventually lead to WVU's 38-35 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl that keyed the still-ongoing rebuilding effort, one that has come along way and one that will again be showcased nationally on Nov. 2.


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