West Va. hits 10-0, joins hunt

WHO'S NO. 1 NOW?

November 21, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- There was a feeling during the first half of yesterday's game at cold and windy Mountaineer Field that a victory over fourth-ranked Miami would vault undefeated and unappreciated West Virginia right into the hunt for a national championship.

It grew stronger when the announcement came from South Bend, Ind., of top-ranked Notre Dame's shocking last-second loss to Boston College, whipping a record crowd of 70,222 into a frostbitten frenzy. And when West Virginia ran out the clock on a 17-14 victory, it grew drastically around these parts.

The victory not only clinched at least a tie of the first official Big East championship for the Mountaineers, but it also likely will vault ninth-ranked West Virginia (10-0) among the top five teams in the country. It also set off a celebration that sent the goal posts toppling within a half-minute of the final gun.

And it will spark a controversy about which team is deserving of the nation's No. 1 ranking. With his team among the three remaining unbeaten Division I-A schools -- two of which are eligible for a national championship -- West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said he believes the Mountaineers should finally merit consideration.

"Any team that doesn't lose is a lot better than somebody that's lost," said Nehlen, who is notorious for constantly bemoaning his team's lack of national respect. "I didn't understand why they [the media] wanted to have Notre Dame match up with Florida State. We're as deserving as anybody, that's for daggone sure."

After a sloppy first half in which they missed two early field goals and managed to build only a 3-0 halftime lead -- this despite starting in Miami territory the first four times they had the ball -- the Mountaineers came back in the second half from deficits of 7-3, 10-7 and 14-10.

West Virginia scored the game-winning touchdown on a 19-yard run by tailback Robert Walker with a little over six minutes remaining, stopped the Hurricanes on downs and then secured the victory with three successive first downs. The last came with 61 seconds left as Miami used its final timeout.

"I'm not going to take anything away from them, they played a great game," said Miami quarterback Ryan Collins, whose two interceptions in the first half were among his team's three turnovers. "We just didn't do anything in the first half in the first half and didn't produce when we had to."

Miami finally scored, starting the second half with a 16-play drive that consumed 80 yards and nearly seven minutes. Donnell Bennett's 2-yard run was answered immediately by the Mountaineers, with a 13-play, 66-yard drive that took nearly the same amount of time. Quarterback Jake Kelchner tossed a 1-yard pass to fullback Rodney Woodard with 1:19 left in the third quarter.

The Hurricanes opened the fourth quarter with another long drive, going 80 yards in eight plays in a little less than four minutes with Bennett scoring on a 1-yard run. As the crowd got a bit nervous, the Mountaineers got together on the sideline for a little impromptu group encounter. They wanted to keep it on the ground, to keep the clock moving, to keep knocking Miami backward.

"In the second half, we went back to our regular running game," said offensive tackle Rich Brahan. "We smashed them. It was great."

After pinning Miami deep in its territory midway through the fourth quarter, a 28-yard punt return by Mike Baker to the Hurricanes' 30 set up West Virginia's go-ahead drive. Following a 1-yard run by Woodard, Miami cornerback Paul White was penalized for holding Baker, giving the Mountaineers first down at the 19.

"I don't think it was the right call, but it was the call that was made," said White. "We still had a chance to stop them, and we couldn't."

Walker, who would finish with 100 yards on 27 carries, started off left tackle and when the hole closed up, cut outside. He went in untouched with 6:08 remaining. Still, it was up to the defense to stop the Hurricanes as they had for most of the afternoon.

"Our defense played one of the greatest games ever," said an admiring Kelchner. "My job was to score. I knew that we were going to be able to score on these guys. To win a game like this, it's hard to describe."

When the final seconds ran out, the fans poured onto the field. The celebration was rather orderly considering the mayhem and tragedy that followed a similar victory last month at Wisconsin, with the goal posts pulled down and taken apart quite efficiently.

A5 Sort of the way the Mountaineers took down Miami.

Miami 0 0 7 7 -- 14

West Virginia 3 0 7 7 -- 17

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