By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Writer
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. —
Cecil Level was living the dream, long before West Virginia qualified for the Orange Bowl, long before the season started. Long before West Virginia’s 70-33 win over Clemson Wednesday night at Sun Life Stadium in a record-shattering performance.
Level was just living the dream by being a member of the team.
Inside a raucous Mountaineer lockerroom, it was a safe assumption that Level had taken a lot more circuitous route there than most of his teammates.
He went from West Virginia University Tech in Montgomery — and two wins in two years — to being an Orange Bowl champion.
Tech no longer has a football program.
“We won two games,” Level said of his career at Tech.
“It was a big step but I thank God for being able make this journey and walk on to this team. It was a good choice. I still feel like it’s a dream. It hasn’t hit me yet. We just won the Orange Bowl.”
His position coach at Tech, former Mountaineer receiver John Pennington, thought he had a chance to walk-on and play Division I.
“It was really a blessing, especially since they folded the program down there,” Level said. “It probably doesn’t happen like this to a lot of people. It was a blessing.”
Level, who starts on special teams, didn’t have any tackles, but he did lose some skin on his right hand.
“I was trying to make a tackle and a guy stepped on my hand,” Level said. “It was worth it. They were going to keep me out but I wasn’t going out. It was the Orange Bowl. I was too excited.”
Level said he plans to work hard and hopes to get a shot at playing as a defensive back next season.
It’s a long shot for sure.
But then he has been there before.
Tavon Austin had caught four touchdown passes all season long.
On Wednesday he matched that in one game and established a new BCS record.
Though they all came on the same short, shovel-type passes from quarterback Geno Smith, they all counted.
And that wasn’t all Austin did.
He also caught an Orange Bowl record with 11 passes for 117 yards (100 of that coming after the catch), had 46 yards rushing on four carries and returned five kicks for 117 yards.
All told, he accounted for 280 yards.
And that was by design.
“We made a conscious effort to get him the ball a bunch, and whenever we got him the ball, he made things happen,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s a kid that the more he gets the ball, the more confidence he has, and when he started making a few plays, he looks at me and says, ‘Coach, you’re going to get me the ball again, right?’ I said, ‘Get in there and let’s do it.’ When he says that and he’s got that mindset, then he’s pretty hard to stop.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is a believer.
“I’m telling you, we still haven’t tackled No. 1 (Austin),” Swinney said. “He’s as good a skilled player with the ball in his hands as I’ve seen all year. I mean, he’s special. He is a special, special football player. He’s second in the country in all-purpose, I believe. You saw why tonight. Very, very talented player.”
Austin said the team gained a massive amount of motivation from the fact that most of the nation thought WVU would fall to the ACC champions, much like the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, when WVU was a huge underdog.
“Me and (fellow receiver) Devon Brown was in the hotel, and it’s the first time I (saw 83-percent of the country picked Clemson),” Austin said. “ I kind of got mad and turned the TV off and went to sleep.
“Coach Holgorsen got us together in our meeting and told us just to believe in ourselves and believe in the people in this room, and that’s what we did, we bought into what he said and we got the job done.”
Smith was happy to have Austin rolling on all cylinders.
“Oh, man, he won me an MVP,” Smith said. “I should give him a trophy. He takes it the distance every time. He’s one of the quickest guys I’ve ever seen, with and without a football, and it’s just a blessing to have a guy like him on my team.”
Anthony Buie had one of the most extraordinary plays of the season, when he was taken down by Rashard Hall. Instead of going down, he fell across Hall, flipped over, used his hand to regain his balance and bounced up, and gained almost 15 yards more, setting up WVU’s first touchdown.
“After I caught the ball, I never felt like I hit the ground,” Buie said. “So I got up and kept running, sure enough, I wasn’t down. I just had that feeling. Why not keep running.”
Buie hadn’t had much opportunity since the Maryland game in Week 3, although he appeared in 10 games. He had 51 of his 127 yards and his only TD in that game at Maryland.
On Wednesday he had a season-high 13 carries for 45 yards and caught four passes for 32.
He got the extra time when starting tailback and fellow true freshman Dustin Garrison tore his ACL last week.
“(Running backs) coach (Robert) Gillespie always says to be ready, you never know when your number is going to get called,” Buie said. “He does a good job getting us reps in practice so when somebody is out, we aren’t unprepared. We’re always ready to go.”
Holgorsen became just the fourth coach to win a BCS Bowl in his first season.
Miami’s Larry Coker (2001 Fiesta), Boise State’s Chris Peterson (2006 Fiesta), and Michigan’s Brady Hoke the night before, are the others.
“It isn’t about me,” Holgorsen said. “It’s about our seniors. Those guys have been through a lot. They have laid the groundwork.”
Most of WVU’s senior class, including Julian Miller and Najee Goode, were freshmen on the 2008 Fiesta Bowl champions.
WVU’s 70 points were the most scored by any single team in any bowl. Baylor set the record with 67 a week ago in the Alamo Bowl.
The 103 combined points is a new BCS record, eclipsing the previous mark of 85 in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Smith’s six TD tosses was a BCS bowl record and it tied the overall bowl record of six by Iowa’s Chuck Long in 1984 and he was the first player to pass for over 400 yards in the Orange Bowl.
Kicker Tyler Bitancurt set the record for PATS attempted and made (10 for 10) in all bowl games.