A Devine Victory For WVU
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- He was immortalized on YouTube, this high school phenom out of North Fort Myers High School in Florida.
Every run was an adventure, he'd be hit by bigger, stronger players, would bounce off them and continue forward. Once an entire scrum of defenders had him surrounded, only to have him slither free and run for a touchdown.
What's more, he had befriended by Neon Deion Sanders after both his parents had died of complications from AIDS.
He even had the name to go with the fame -- Noel Devine.
All he had to do was prove himself on the national scene.
Thursday night, he did just that as West Virginia defeated Maryland, 31-14, in the final game of their rivalry for at least a couple of years before a national television audience.
Devine isn't a starter. As good as he is, he doesn't figure to be. Steve Slaton, a consensus All-American and the school record holder in rushing yardage for a season, is the incumbent at the running back position and isn't about ready to give it up at this point.
In fact, in this victory, Slaton gained 137 yards on 26 carries and scored three touchdowns, which is a good night's work for anyone.
However, when it was over, the buzz was all about Devine, not Slaton.
In fact, one might say if Devine can keep running as he did in this game, Slaton will wind up leading the nation in scoring.
Devine managed 136 yards on the night, one yard fewer than Slaton.
He didn't score a touchdown.
Devine did it it on five carries.
And they came when the Mountaineers, who are now3-0, needed them most.
Devine's first carry of the night came during the first drive of the second half after WVU's offense struggled to a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Rodriguez wanted to give a little bit of a different look so he sent Devine into the game.
"He gave us a big lift," the coach admitted.
Big? Huge is more like it. Gigantic even better.
On his first carry he broke loose for 31 yards and took the ball to the 1.
Enter Slaton back into the game to take the ball into the end zone.
Late in the third quarter WVU had the same 21-7 lead when the ball was handed to Devine on the WVU 23 yard line.
Seventy-six yards later Maryland's Byrd Stadium was quieted as Devine swept around right end, made a sweet cut and headed down the sideline.
Somehow, Maryland safety Kevin Barnes got an angle and ran down the flett Noel.
"I saw him out of the corner of my eye," Noel said. "I thought I could make it."
He came up a yard short again and Slaton took care of the rest.
Two of Slaton's three touchdowns came on those short runs.
His other touchdown was vintage Slaton, sprinting to the outside, seeing a gap, turning on the afterburner and racintg 22 yards for the score. He now has nine touchdowns this year, 41 rushing touchdowns in his last 23 games.
"I didn't realize Steve had 26 carries," Rodriguez said after it was over. "Steve's a competitive guy. Sometimes he's too competitive, tries to run straight downhill rather than thrying to use his speed to outrun people. There are times he tries to show his toughness and stick it in there."
Devine is much the opposite. He is fluid, possessing great balance.
"He has great quickness," Rodriguez said. "You saw today what we saw on film. He continues to work hard and be hungry."
If the two running backs did their thing for WVU, quarterback Pat White had a rare off game, fumbling three times in the first half, gaining only 22 yards rushing and passing for 95 yards on 8 of 13.
"Pat wasn't as sharp as normal," Rodriguez said.
Still, he scored WVU's first touchdown on a 22-yard run, untouchded all the way into the end zone.
The other side of the coin for WVU was that the defense stood tall for the first time this year. Often criticized,k it held Maryland to just 89 rushing yards and 269 yards for the game, recording five sacks and pulling in a pair of interceptions.
Keon Lattimore got a quick start in the game but finished with only 80 yards in 21 carries while quartgerback Jordan Steffy was 16 of 23 for 180 yards. Lattimore scored one touchdown and Steffy threw for one.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed with the loss," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "West Virginia's obviously a very good football team with a lot of speed. I do think ther were a lot of positives in this game. things weren't going too well early in the game, but I thought our kids were able to get back into it. I think we have a chance at being a good running team."
West Virginia returns to action at home on Saturday against East Carolina while Maryland is at Wake Forest.
Play of the Game: WVU's Noel Devine took a handoff from quarterback Patrick White and went down the sideline for 76 yards to the Maryland 1, setting up the touchdown that gave WVU a 28-7 lead. It tied the longest non-scoring run in WVU history.
Player of the Game: WVU's Noel Devine, who came off the bench to rush for 136 yards on just five carries, averaging 27.2 yards a carry. he also returned two kickoffs for 52 yards and caught one pass for one yard.