When Quincy Wilson got to the locker room and finally got things in order well enough to leave the Orange Bowl, he looked at his cell phone and wondered what was going on. Nearly 30 missed calls and nearly an equal number of voice messages were on his cell phone in those pre-text-everyone days of 2003.
“We just lost the game and I look at my phone and I’m stunned at the numbers I see. I’ve only gotten that many calls when we had won so I knew something was up,” said Wilson. “I was wondering what everyone was so excited about.”
What they were so excited about was “the run.” It had just taken place in front of a nationwide audience during ESPN’s Thursday Night Football. It was the only college game available as the 1-3 Mountaineers were facing No. 3-ranked Miami and on the brink of breaking the Hurricanes’ 36-game home winning streak thanks primarily to “the run.”
In a bit of clarification, it should be noted that “the run,” was actually a pass play. But, before getting to the play itself, it’s important to know of the thought process going through Wilson’s head. For the former Weirton High School all-stater, there was more than an ample amount of frustration building as the result of things in and beyond his control.
After WVU had recovered a Miami fumble near midfield with 3:32 left in the fourth period, West Virginia found itself faced with a second down play that went awry that could have produced a short yardage third down play or perhaps even a first down.
“I was so frustrated,” said Wilson.
Part of the dismay beyond the failure to execute the second down play may have been the fact the Mountaineers not only were running out of time and opportunity with minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but failure on second down meant they were now facing a third-and-13. Considering WVU had converted zero third downs in the game, the situation looked bleak. And when the play call from former coach Rich Rodriguez came in, Wilson became even more disenchanted.
“Those first few plays we didn’t do a thing. Then, Coach Rod signaled in a screen pass to me from the sidelines. We hadn’t ran that play all year and I’d be lying if I told you that the call didn’t just add to my frustration. We had the play called so once we lined up from our no huddle; I knew it was coming to me.”
As it turned out, despite not having run the play all year, Wilson wasn’t the only person knowing it was coming his way; so did the Hurricane defense. Almost as soon as quarterback Rasheed Marshall swung the football to his left, a certain player named Vince Wilfork greeted him well behind the line of scrimmage. The play, at first, looked dead in the water.
“Vince Wilfork read it perfectly. As soon as I caught it, he was right there. I just made him miss and after that it was smooth sailing,” Wilson said.
Well, smooth sailing depends on what uniform you happened to wearing. If you were in the Blue and Gold, it was indeed smooth sailing. If you had on the orange and green, a disaster was about to happen.
As Wilson shook free of a tackle after juking Wilfork, he had one person left to beat to get the end zone. The only thing standing between Wilson and six points was defensive back Brandon Merriweather. Merriweather, who like Wilfork is an established NFL star, stepped into Wilson’s path to make the tackle. At this point, the old analogy of sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug comes to mind. And there was no doubt then or a nearly a decade later what role Wilson played and the role taken by Merriweather in the exchange.
Wilson not only lowered a boom to Merriweather that sent the Hurricane DB tumbling backwards five yards, but then proceeded to add insult to injury by hurdling him to complete the last few yards of the amazing touchdown catch and run. All of the sudden, WVU was ahead 20-19 with two minutes left to play.
As Wilson was making the dash toward the end zone, ESPN’s Mike Tirico came completely unglued with excitement. He knew he had just witnessed something special and you can hear it in the audio of the video below. MSN employee and Bridgeport High School radio analyst Travis Jones, who had made the trip to operate the parabolic microphone on the sidelines, was right there as it happened and he, too, could not contain his excitement. And neither could Wilson’s teammates, who swarmed past the prone, I-just-got-hit-by-a-catering van body of Merriweather and pounced on Wilson in the end zone.
“I didn’t really know it was a big deal as it was happening because I was just looking for that first down marker,” said Wilson. “It was probably later that night when I saw it on Sportscenter that I knew it was a good play, but I was still so mad that we lost that I couldn’t even think about enjoying it. It took a while, but eventually I knew I had done something special.”
While the Mountaineers lost the game as Wilson mentioned (on a last second Brock Berlin field goal), it’s very possible the play saved WVU’s season and also turned around the WVU program. Incredibly, the Mountaineers won seven straight games after that, including a 28-7 win against then No. 3-ranked Virginia Tech in Morgantown, before losing the Gator Bowl.
The seven straight wins may have been the biggest plus after Wilson’s run, but it wasn’t the only memorable moment that resulted from "the run." The play was so big it was one of the finalists for an ESPY for “Play of the Year.” While getting to go to the ESPYs, Wilson lost out to Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher’s game-winning shot against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA playoffs.
“I can’t tell you how great of an experience it was to go to the ESPYs. At the same time, I think I was robbed,” said Wilson amidst some laughter.
From that point forward, the notoriety about the play has become part of Wilson’s legacy. And he knew it when he got to his first practice in the NFL after being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons.
“I get to training camp and they’re telling me I’m the guy from WVU that ran over the player from Miami. They said I was that number three that did that. They didn’t know my name, but they knew my number from the play,” said Wilson. “I guess I knew then, and probably already should have known, that this was way beyond the knowledge of my own social circle and was probably known by anyone that follows sports all over the world, even if they just remembered my number.”
In the Mountain State – and even amongst many of the players for Miami – they remember the name of the player that produced about 10 seconds of football magic on a Thursday night in South Florida. There is no magic for Merriweather who, more than a decade later, would probably like to make the moment disappear.
“I knew a bunch of guys on (the Miami) team and knew Brandon as well and it’s been good for ribbing him for all of these years. If you how guys are about that stuff, you know (his teammates) were all over him,” said Wilson.
On Wednesday, Wilson got all over his new job as the Director of Player Development under coach Dana Holgorsen. He already knows that regardless of what he accomplishes at WVU from this point forward, he’ll almost certainly be known by most for that one moment.
“To this day, anything that deals with West Virginia University where I’m involved, it’s brought up. You know what, it’s a good thing,” Wilson said. “What’s really nice is that people compare it to Major’s play and I think the one thing that helps my play get compared is that it’s all over the (internet) on places like YouTube.
“I don’t mind talking about it at all. I think back to last spring at an autograph signing in Summersville and here comes this lady up to me decked out with everything WVU on possible, including ear rings,” Wilson continued. “She said she’s watched WVU football all of her life and she talks about my run and starts imitating what I did and then tells me it was one of the biggest highlights of her life. To know that what I did brings that type of joy to someone is really special. I guess you can say I like it.”
With the possible exception of Merriweather, who wouldn’t?
Editor's Note: Photo of Wilson courtesy of WVU Sports Communications.
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