Kellen Winslow simply was not going to let the Hurricanes lose to West Virginia last Thursday night.
Facing a critical fourth-and-13 situation from their own 25-yard line, the Hurricanes needed a miracle to avoid being virtually eliminated from the national championship race. With their title hopes hanging in the balance, the ‘Canes relied on their best player to save the day.
After throwing two short passes to Jarrett Payton and misfiring on a third attempt, junior quarterback Brock Berlin threw a high pass over the middle of the field intended for Winslow, and the junior tight end was able to come up with an acrobatic 18-yard reception to keep the drive going.
Berlin then connected with Payton for 16 yards, Ryan Moore for nine yards, and found senior Kevin Beard for 11 yards, bringing the Hurricanes to the Mountaineers’ 21-yard line. Beard then drew a pass interference penalty to put the ‘Canes on the six-yard line, setting up Jon Peattie’s fifth field goal of the game to help UM escape with a 22-20 victory.
The win would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Winslow. Berlin felt that the fourth down catch settled the entire offense down and enabled the signal-caller to find a rhythm when he needed it most.
“Kellen made that huge fourth down catch and I think that got us going. We were able to build off of that,” Berlin said.
Head Coach Larry Coker gave Winslow all of the credit for giving the ‘Canes a chance to win at the end of the game.
“It came down to a fourth down play, and a great player made a great play. Kellen Winslow kept us alive, kept us in the game,” Coker said.
It was a breakout game of sorts for Winslow, who was receiving more room to make short catches and avoid the constant double and triple teaming that had kept his number of receptions down in prior weeks.
“A lot of the teams in the past have been double-teaming him [Kellen]…they gave us a lot of underneath stuff…and every time I can get Kellen the ball I’m going to get him the ball,” Berlin said.
Winslow felt that he could not be stopped when West Virginia put him in single coverage situations.
“They would blitz, and it was one-on-one. If it’s one-on-one, then I’m going to win,” Winslow said.
Winslow finished the game with 10 catches for 104 yards, numbers that could put him back into the wide-open Heisman race. Despite the impressive statistics and dramatic victory, however, Winslow and the rest of the ‘Canes were mutually displeased with their performance.
“We’re really disappointed [with the performance],” Winslow said. “We have to capitalize on those drives [in the red zone]. But the field goal really lifted out spirits.”
Winslow feels that the team needs to clean up the sloppy play that has plagued the Hurricanes in almost every game this season.
“We have to get our stuff straight. I mean, we’re a confident team, but we have to get our stuff straight,” Winslow said. “We just have to toughen up. We need to buckle down and get in the end zone.”
According to Winslow, what makes the ‘Canes special is the fact that they truly control their own destiny each game. The reason why they had to pull off a last-minute win against West Virginia was because they put themselves in the desperate situation by making turnovers and failing to convert deep in Mountaineer territory.
“We always know that we’re going to win. We just make it harder on ourselves. [The drive] was what champions are made of,” Winslow said.