By Bill Nestor
West Virginia dominated and decimated North Carolina 30 to 10 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl two days after Santa Claus came to town. The Mountaineers played without a pair of heavy hitters in All- America center Zach Frazier (the Fairmont Senior product) and top rusher C. J. Donaldson Jr., which was a tall task, but the Tar Heels found themselves in an even worse position. North Carolina had a dozen starters out, including standout signal caller Drake Mayle.
Mayle has been projected to be a top five selection in next year’s NFL Draft.
Even with the advantage heading into the lock-up, WVU head coach Neal Brown had to have his team ready to play. UNC is just a little over two hours away from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and in terms of comfort for the Heels it would resemble a home game. Ironically, the vast majority of the 42,925 in attendance were Mountaineer fans.
A pair of big plays highlighted the first half as quarterback Garrett Greene connected with Traylon Ray on a 75 yard pass play for the game’s first score. Beanie Bishop Jr. returned a punt 78 yards for WVU’s second touchdown that came in the second quarter. Michael Hayes connected on both extra points and nailed a 30 yard field goal as time expired in the second frame to give the Mountaineers a 17 to 10 halftime lead.
The third period was a defensive struggle with Hayes providing the lone points on a 34 yard field goal with 2:40 left in the segment.
The defense continued to play inspired football, just as it has all season long when it has been needed. On the rare occasion that the offense has sputtered, the stoppers have stopped up their play. That has been the recipe for success this season and the main reason that a team that was picked to finish dead last in the preseason standings can wind up fourth out of 14 Big 12 teams.
West Virginia would add some insurance in the fourth quarter. Jahiem White found the end zone on an 11 yard run. Hayes added the point after and a third field goal from 29 yards out to put a bow on Brown’s late Christmas present.
Not only did the defense pitch a second half shutout, it played a mean game of sack the quarterback, bringing down North Carolina signal caller Conner Harrell seven times behind the line of scrimmage. The “D” also held Omarion Hampton in check. The Tar Heels running back had 1,504 yards and 15 touchdowns going into the match-up and finished with 62 yards on 19 attempts.
Greene continues to impress as the leader of the Mountaineer squad. He was 12 of 23 passing for 223 yards and one score. Greene also paced the ground game with 64 yards on nine attempts. His management of the game was impressive. Not forcing plays while committing zero turnovers proves that he is ready for the next level.
There are several returning players that will combine with talented newcomers that look to step in and make an immediate impact. As good as the nine and four record looks now, there might be an even better one waiting for Mountaineer Nation next yearAfter the Duke’s Mayor Bowl win, you can spread the word about this team.