Mountaineers Deflated in Continental Tire Bowl

The Virginia Cavaliers, using a nice mix of misdirection and trick plays, dominated the West Virginia Mountaineers in sunny Charlotte, North Carolina in the inaugural Continental Tire bowl on Saturday. Wali Lundy was named Bowl MVP after a four touchdown afternoon in which he gained 130 yards rushing and also contributed another 76 yards receiving.

Coach Rich Rodriguez said before the game that he was concerned about UVA's trick plays and passes to the running backs, and his concerns proved to be valid as the Cavaliers scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter. It was the the third such bad quarter for the Mountaineers this season. The Cavaliers won going away as WVU had nothing in their tank after falling behind 28-10 at the half.

"We had a couple of bad drives. It was just a matter of execution. It is a bad way to end a good year," said Rodriguez.

Mistakes killed WVU in the first half as they committed an offside penalty on a Connor Hughes field goal attempt to give the Cavaliers seven free points. Hughes bounced a kick off the right upright, but the Mountaineer miscue gave Virginia new life, which they quickly converted for a touchdown with 19 second to go in the half.. The missed field goal would have given WVU the ball back down eleven points wth two minutes left in the half.

Virgina's drive started when Phil Braxton's attempt at a pass was intercepted by UVA linebacker Darryl Blackstock and returned nine yards into WVU territory.

WVU still had time to retaliate, as Rasheed Marshall completed a long pass to Miquelle Henderson to the UVA 2 yard line. Henderson appeared to get out of bounds, and the ESPN replays showed he did, with 2 seconds remaining on the clock. But officials rules that time expired, and WVU was left with the 18 point defecit as they marched off at the half.

The game started out well enough for the Mountaineers as they stopped Virginia for no gain on third down and one from the WVU 45 yard line on UVA's first drive. Ernest Hunter broke through the line and stopped Brandon Isaiah, and UVA was forced into what would be their only punt of the game.

The Mountaineer offense started off in high gear as they completed a 16 play, 72 yard drive that was capped off by Todd James' 27 yard field goal. WVU mixed it up well on Virginia as Avon Cobourne (25 rushes for 121 yards) rushed six times on the drive, and Rasheed Marshall (18-21 for 215 yards and 1 interception, 12 rushes for 48 yards) carried three times and threw five times. Marshall's pass to Phil Braxton (4 for 108) was batted down in the endzone on third and goal from the five yard line.

Virginia wasted no time on their next drive, as Matt Schaub (16-22 182 yds, 1 TD) threw to tight end Heath Miller on first down for 26 yards to move to the WVU 32 yard line. Miller was wide open on the play, and would continue to be as the day progressed. Wali Lundy also began to tote the load for UVA, as he carried twice for 14 yards on the drive, and caught two passes for 18 yards, including a 14 yard TD reception on a trick play. Virginia, known for their trick plays, then ran an end around to Marques Hagans, the backup quarterback, and Hagans threw to a wide open Lundy in the endzone to give Virginia its first lead at 7-3 with 4:06 left in the first quarter.

"It was a good play call. I was just hoping I could catch the ball. When you're that wide open, you have a tendency to lose focus. You have to concentrate and let the ball come to you", said Lundy.

Not to be outdone, WVU marched right back down the field and scored with 19 seconds left in the first quarter on Avon Cobourne's 16th touchdown of the season, a six yard run off right tackle, to give WVU the lead back at 10-7. The big play on the drive was a 43 yard pass from Rasheed Marshall to Phil Braxton which moved the ball from the WVU 27 to the Virginia 30. WVU ran the ball six straight times to finish the drive, and the Mountaineers seemed to still be in control.

Virginia, however, went straight out on the next drive and proved otherwise, mounting a 15 play, 70 yard drive in which UVA was 3-4 on third down conversions. The Cavaliers scored on fourth down after the only third down they did not convert. Virginia started to show the dominance of the offensive line of scrimmage they would sport the entire day on the drive, as Virginia only completed two passes for 12 yards on the drive. Matt Schaub was flushed out of the pocket on a play action fake on fourth down, but WVU was unable to bring him down as he scrambled for a one yard touchdown to give Virginia a 14-10 lead that they would never relinquish.

The tide really turned on the Mountaineers' next possession, as Quincy Wilson (10 carries for 39 yards) was held to three yards on two carries, and stopped for a loss on a screen play on third down and nine. Virginia punished the Mountaineers for their first three and out right away as Marques Hagans took Mark Fazzolari's 47 yard punt at the UVA 31 yard line and ran untouched for a 69 yard touchdown which sent the 20,000 plus Virginia fans into a frenzy.

The Mountaineers were again moving the ball on Virginia in their next drive, as Marshall hit Phil Braxton for 28 yards on third down to move the ball into Cavalier territory at the 42 yard line. WVU then tried a trick play of their own as Cobourne handed off to Braxton on an end around. Braxton, however, pulled up to pass back to Avon, in a play they had practiced flawlessly on Thursday. Braxton was hammered while attempting to pass by UVA cornerback Jamaine Winborne, and Darryl Blackstock picked off the fluttering pass and returned it nine yards into WVU territory, with 4:37 to go in the half.

Virginia went right back to work, marching to the WVU nine yard line before the Mountaineer defense stopped Marquis Weeks for a one yard gain on third and three. Connor Hughes missed the 27 yard field goal attempt and WVU seemed to be right back in business. But, as was the case all day, another WVU mistake stuck a dagger right in the WVU hopes as the aforementioned offside penalty led to a gift Cavalier touchdown.

The second half didn't begin any better for the Mountaineers as they committed a holding penalty, forcing them to start their drive at their own ten yard line. Cobourne got them out of trouble on first down with an 18 yard run to the 28 yard line, but after two four yard runs, Cobourne was stopped for a two yard loss on third and two, forcing the Mountaineers into their second punt of the afternoon. Mark Fazzolari punted 41 yards to the Virginia 25 and the Cavs were back in business again.

Virginia went right back to work after the punt. In continuing their third down proficiency, UVA converted their only two third downs, including a 48 yard touchdown pass from Schaub to Lundy on a screen pass on third and nine. The Mountaineer coaches had preached to the defense that a screen would be coming in that situation, and it did every time Virginia had a third and long. The Mountaineer defense, however, could not stop the screen pass all day long, even when they knew it was coming. Virginia now led 35-10, and the 40,000 plus Mountaineer fans began to head for the exits.

The traffic pattern around the stadium really began to crowd as Marshall's pass intended for Braxton was intercepted by Almondo Curry and returned to the WVU 9 yard line. WVU's defense held, however, and Virginia was forced to kick a 27 yard field goal, which extended their lead to 38-10.

WVU continued to move the ball on Virginia, and scored two more touchdowns, but were unable to stop Virginia and make any real threat at the lead in the fourth quarter. Marshall rushed for his 13th touchdown of the season in the third quarter and Cobourne rushed for his 17th late in the 4th giving him the third most rushing touchdowns in a season in WVU history. Marshall's rushing touchdown gave put him into a tie with Amos Zereoue for the fourth most in a season for a Mountaineer.

Lundy, however, continued to shine with a 31 yard romp on third and five after a failed WVU onside kick with 7:17 to go in the game, giving Virginia a 48-22 lead, which would be the final score.

The Mountaineers finished the season at 9-4, which is excellent considering that most prognosticators predicted the Mountaineers to finish sixth in the Big East coming off an unimpressive 3-8 finish in 2001. Finishing the season with a 6-1 stretch, the Mountaineers finished in second place in the Big East, giving them their highest conference finish since the undefeated 1993 Sugar Bowl team won the Big East in the first year of round robin play for the conference.

Hopes and expectations will be higher for the Mountaineers in 2003 as they return several key players including quarterback Rasheed Marshall and tailback Quincy Wilson, who both established themselves as legitimate threats to score every time they touched the field in 2002. Avon Cobourne, who started his 44th game, and David Upchurch, who started his 36th consecutive game, will be a large part of a senior class that will be sorely missed next season, as WVU returns only two offensive linemen and one starting defensive lineman.

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