The University of Miami honored 21 seniors before its 34-10 victory over Rutgers Saturday. The senior class ran out of the smoke to midfield prior to their last ever game at the Orange Bowl.
Senior captain Jonathan Vilma went out in great fashion, finishing the game with a team-high 16 tackles, including one sack. Vilma understood that the team must focus on next week’s contest at Pittsburgh, however, he still took a step back to look at all he and the Hurricanes have accomplished in his four years at Miami.
“I just feel very numb right now,” Vilma said in the locker room after the game. “We have come so far throughout the four years I’ve been a ‘Cane. The feeling is great, but we still must overcome the feeling and focus on beating Pittsburgh next week to sure up a BCS berth.”
Jarrett Payton, also a senior, ran through the smoke prior to the game holding up his father Walther Payton’s Chicago Bears jersey, and gave it to his mother Connie. Payton also left the Orange Bowl with a good performance, rushing for 82 yards on 13 carries and scoring one touchdown. Payton showed his appreciation for UM fans, as he waived to the crowed pumping his chest on the way to the locker room after the game.
“That’s the most fun we’ve had in a long time,” Payton said of the convincing win. “It’s a great way to go out.”
Other notable seniors who will surely be missed include D.J. Williams, Vernon Carey, Carlos Joseph, Jason Geathers, Kevin Beard, Maurice Sikes, Alfonso Marshall, Chris Harvey, Darrell McClover, Joe McGrath, Jarrell Weaver, Larry Anderson and Jim Sikora.
“We wanted the seniors to go out with a win,” Head Coach Larry Coker said. “This class has been through a lot – the Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl. They deserve all the best.”
Will They Stay or Go?
There is much speculation on whether or not junior stars Kellen Winslow and Sean Taylor will leave college early to enter the NFL Draft.
Winslow hinted that there is a strong possibility that he could have played in his last career game at the Orange Bowl.
“It might be my last game, it might not,” Winslow said after the game. “Most of my friends are leaving.”
Reserve tight end Kevin Everett scored two touchdowns against Rutgers mainly due to double team coverage on Winslow.
“He’s a ‘Cane and he’ll carry the torch once I’m gone,” Winslow said of Everett.
Taylor responded without comment after the game as to whether or not he played his last game at Miami.
If it was Taylor’s last game, he went out on top. Taylor recorded his team leading seventh interception of the season and returned it 44 yards for his third interception return for a touchdown in 2003.
Nanton Steps Up for ‘canes
UM defensive end Javon Nanton had a career day against Rutgers Saturday. Nanton, a former walk-on who was granted a full scholarship this fall, recorded three and a half sacks on the afternoon. The 6-3, 230-pound sophomore made the third start of his career, and perhaps overshadowed the seniors with his stellar play.
“I was just trying to take the seniors out with a good game,” Nanton said. “It was also the last game at the Orange Bowl for me this year, so I wanted to go out with a bang.”
Bumps and Bruises
The victory on senior day did not come without injuries for Miami.
After the game, Coker reported that junior center Joel Rodriguez left the game with a broken left fibula in the fourth quarter.
Senior strong safety Maurice Sikes indicated that he probably broke his right hand, but assured fans that he will play next week at Pittsburgh.
Special teams whiz Jarrell Weaver also left the game with a broken left foot.
After kicking field goals of 25 and 41 yards, freshman kicker Jon Peattie is now third on UM’s single-season list with 19 field goals on the season…Miami blocked two punts against Rutgers, giving them four punt blocks on the season…The ‘Canes intercepted a season-high three passes…Miami improved to 11-0 against Rutgers all-time…Kevin Everett’s three touchdowns this season are two more than starter Kellen Winslow.
You can reach Brian Poliakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.