Sunday, September 22, 2002

UC needed a hero




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        He had it and then he didn't. He was a hero and an afterthought, a name to be remembered and a name to be shrugged away, all in the escape of a breath. With 37 seconds to play, George Murray was looking up at a spiral from Gino Guidugli that was as right as a sunset on the beach.

        “A perfect ball,” Murray said.

        He would catch it, roll through the end zone and hear the roars. The biggest crowd in the history of Cincinnati sports would be yelling praises to him, George Murray Jr. He would catch the pass that beat sixth-ranked Ohio State. It was right there.

        They run the play every day in practice and every day, Murray makes the catch. He is the “boundary receiver.” Guidugli, the quarterback, looks over the middle to LaDaris Vann, UC's best receiver. If Vann isn't open, Guidugli finds Murray on the edge.

        “When I dove and the ball hit my hands, I knew I had it,” Murray said.

        OSU linebacker Cie Grant was behind Murray just enough that Guidugli could squeeze in the perfect throw.

        Guidugli is just a sophomore and already is making a living as UC's miracle man. He took the Bearcats 65 yards in three minutes, completing three passes and running once for 9 more. In these moments, Guidugli doesn't so much lead drives as paint them, the way Joe Montana did.

        UC got to the Ohio State 15, missed twice in the end zone, then went to Murray. He leaped, stretched, had the ball, heard the call to glory, hit the earth and ....

        “When I hit the ground, the ball rolled up under me,” Murray said.

        He couldn't hold it. “When I patted my chest, I felt the ball wasn't in there,” Murray said. “That's when my world came tumbling down.”

        Ohio State beat Cincinnati, 23-19. The only sounds coming from the UC locker room were the murmurs of regret.

        “You only get a few shots,” Bearcats coach Rick Minter said.

        UC had other chances to beat the Buckeyes. The Bearcats, in fact, had more chances to win than Ohio State did. The Buckeyes were so bad in the first half, they did everything but march a script Michigan at midfield. UC didn't take much advantage, leading just 12-7 at halftime.

        In the third quarter, OSU had a 96-yard kickoff return called back. In the fourth, the Buckeyes botched a fourth-and-goal from the 2 by having 12 men on the field. They were ready to be had.

        Meanwhile, the Bearcats were looking at good fortune and kissing it off. In the fourth quarter, they had a first down at the OSU 18 when Guidugli and Tye Keith miscommunicated and a ball was intercepted. On UC's next possession, Guidugli fumbled when he was blindsided by OSU defensive end Darrion Scott.

        Even with that, the Bearcats had four tries to win from the OSU 15. George Murray wasn't a goat; he just wasn't a hero. UC needed a hero.

        The Bearcats might not get another chance like this for a long time. They aren't in the Big Ten. When they have a dance in the national consciousness, they can't trip.

        “It sucks,” Guidugli decided. “It sucks so bad.”

        Said Murray: “I was the only possible person who could catch that ball.”

        Murray was a quarterback in high school and a backup to Guidugli last year. This year, he plays both QB and wideout. What a story it would have been: Former quarterback catches TD pass to beat Ohio State.

        Instead, the ball hit the turf. UC will wait until next time, and hope it isn't too far away.

        E-mail Paul Daugherty at pdaugherty@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/daugherty

       

       



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