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Players deliver for retiring coach

NASHVILLE -- It was evident from West Virginia's first possession that the Mountaineers were sending retiring coach Don Nehlen out a winner Thursday at the Music City Bowl.

It took WVU just three plays to score when Brad Lewis' faked a dive to Avon Cobourne, a reverse to Antonio Brown and threw back to fullback Wes Ours who rumbled 40 yards for a touchdown.

"I would run through a brick wall for that man," Ours said. "There was no way we were going to do anything less for him."

Quite simply, the Mountaineers weren't going to let Nehlen down on this cold, windy day.

"I was giving everything I had for coach Nehlen. We all were," Lewis said. "There was so much emotion in preparing for this game.

"But I wanted to leave everything I had on the field so when I walked off, I would know I had done my best for him and our seniors."

Strong safety Shawn Hackett called Nehlen the ultimate players coach.

"With all those wins he has, he's such a humble man," Hackett said. "Whenever we win, he gives us the credit and whenever we lose, he takes the blame.

"I admire him so much for doing that, because you have to be a strong individual to do that."

Center Rick Gilliam, all 6-foot-6 and 330-pounds of him, was teary-eyed.

"That's all we wanted to do," Gilliam said. "It wouldn't have been right any other way.

"It was like somebody lit a fire under our rears out there."

Avon Cobourne, who rushed for 125 yards, summed it up.

"I'm honored that he let me run the ball to seal up the win," Cobourne said. "It was great to see him go out a winner."

Yes, Don Nehlen will always remember his 202nd victory.

Some Music City tidbits:

n Shawn Terry's 99-yard kickoff return marked the third time this season the backup wide receiver returned a kick for a score.

n Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe says the most valuable thing his seniors are leaving his program are the intangibles it takes to win. "We'll miss them, but a part of them will always remain here in the younger kids."

n Cutcliffe referred to quarterback Romaro Miller as "a warrior." He said Miller was as physically tough as anybody he's been around.

n Nehlen was hoping for warmer weather. He said the bitter cold turned quarterback Brad Lewis' fingertips "pure white." Maybe "pure gold" would be a better description following his 5 touchdown, 318-yard passing performance.

n Country music superstar Sara Evans gave a classy rendition of the Star Bangled Banner.

n Country duo Montgomery Gentry provided halftime entertainment.

n The sunny, clear blue sky when the game started was a bit deceiving. The windchill factor was a chilly 10 degrees.

Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or via e-mail at gtalkington@exponent-telegram.com.

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