Anatomy of an Accident

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With West Virginia having rallied to within 35-31, place kicker Pat McAfee stepped into what he called the "luckiest kick of my life."

The sophomore, meaning to kick the ball deep, actually mishit the football. A change in wind, which was blowing right into the kicker's face from the end zone area just off the St. John's River outside Alltel Stadium, caused a change in tactic. McAfee decided instead of booming the kickoff into the end zone with a normal arc, he would kick a low liner that had a better chance of going farther, but would be a sharp, strong kick that could knife through the wind easier.

He hit the ball, which bounced directly off the leg of up-man Tony Clark, a safety. The skill player tried to dive back on the loose, and live, pigskin, only to have linebacker Barry Wright create a massive pileup when he slid into the ball and skidded it sideways. When the players were unstacked by the Mountain West officiating crew, West Virginia defensive back Johnny Holmes had recovered, despite getting gouged in the bottom of the pile.

"It's very hard to do that and hold on," said Holmes, who also had a tackle and often manned up against All-American receiver Calvin Johnson. "I thought I was going to let it go a few times, but I held on. The game was on the line. I almost missed it. I was running and dove into the pile, seeing it come out the back."

The ball Holmes recovered wasn't intended to be in his area at all and McAfee, to his credit, admitted as much following the second straight bowl game in which his field goal was the final margin in a 38-35 win over a team from Georgia. McAfee made a 24-yarder in the first half and was a perfect seven-of-seven on point-afters. He tallied 10 points for the second straight bowl game, getting the 10th on a place kick after West Virginia scored on a 15-yard Patrick White keeper to go ahead for good.

"Yeah, right in the leg, that's where I was aimin'," McAfee said. "I didn't know it was going to hit the second guy. All week in practice we had a piece of wood sitting there. No, really, that was the luckiest ball I have ever hit in my life. And when I say the luckiest, I mean, in all my years of soccer or football, the absolute luckiest. There is no way in hell I could do that again."

It was the second straight season in which the Mountaineers (11-2), which finished with 11 wins for the fifth time in school history, won a major bowl game via its special teams. Last year, punter Phil Brady's carry off a fake helped seal the Sugar Bowl win over a top 10 Georgia team. Along with the Louisville recovery of an onsides kick last year, a long field goal against Rutgers that forced the game into overtime this season, there are numerous examples of the formerly-much maligned special teams at West Virginia making game changing moments more often in wins. The team did struggle in an upset loss at Louisville this season.

"I'll say it: We were trying to get a touchback," McAfee said. "I drove it and it came out like a spiral. It worked out, though. I am happy."


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