CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — West Virginia’s season ended with coach Neal Brown getting mayonnaise dumped over his head after a victory in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
Few expected that outcome when the Mountaineers were picked to finish last in the 14-team Big 12.
“It’s a significant step for us,” Brown said.
Garrett Greene threw for 204 yards and a touchdown, Beanie Bishop Jr. returned a punt 78 yards for a score and West Virginia closed a season in which it exceeded expectations with a 30-10 victory over North Carolina on Wednesday night.
Greene, the game’s MVP, said the preseason predictions motivated him and his teammates all season. So much so. that he recently wore a No. 14 Mountaineers jersey to a Charles Wesley Godwin concert while taking the stage briefly to announce the team’s uniform selection for the bowl game.
“I knew what we had in the locker room,” Greene said. “So when those (predictions) came out it kind of (ticked) everyone off. We knew we were a better team than that.”
As for getting a full bucket of mayo dumped on his head, Brown joked “I would not recommend it to anyone.”
Traylon Ray had a 75-yard touchdown reception on the first play from scrimmage for the Mountaineers, who won their final three games to finish 9-4.
Greene completed 11 of 22 passes and also ran for 75 yards. Jahiem White ran for 50 yards and a touchdown for West Virginia, and Ray finished with three catches for a 91 yards.
North Carolina (8-5) played without star quarterback Drake Maye and top wide receiver Tez Walker, who opted out of the game to begin preparing for the NFL draft.
Conner Harrell made his first college start for North Carolina, completing 18 of 27 passes for 199 yards, with a 16-yard touchdown to J.J. Jones. Harrell ran for 37 yards, but was sacked seven times and threw two interceptions — one in the end zone.
For the second straight season the Tar Heels struggled down the stretch, losing five of their final seven games — including the last three — after starting 6-0.
Last year, UNC started 9-1 only to finish with four losses.
“We have to figure out why we’re not finishing well,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “We’ve gotten to eight or nine wins and we’ve got to get over that hump to get to more. My job over the next six months is to figure out why are we doing so well early and not doing well late.”
Despite the game being played about a two-hour drive from North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus, it was a predominantly West Virginia crowd.
And the Mountaineers fans watched their team get off to a great start as Greene hooked up with a Ray on a 75-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage. Greene said that one of two starting plays the team had considered in pre-game planning.
West Virginia, which entered the game fourth in the nation rushing at 234.4 yards per game, couldn’t muster much on offense after that in the first half. But their special teams provided a huge lift as Bishop fielded a punt, make a tackler miss and crossed the field en route to a 78-yard return to help build a 17-10 halftime lead.
Bishop had returned kickoffs before, but never a punt.
“He outkicked his coverage,” Bishop said. “I made one or two guys miss and off to the races.”
The Mountaineers finally got their running game going in the fourth quarter when Greene broke the pocket for a 48-yard scamper and White scored on an 11-yard burst to extend the lead to 27-10. Michael Hayes made it a 30-10 with eight minutes left on his third field goal of the game.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers didn’t have their best running game, but Greene made the most of what he was given and used his arm to beat the Tar Heels. His return next season for his senior season should bode well as the Mountaineers look to build on a surprising season which likely saved Neal Brown’s job. “I think we will be in the preseason top 25 next year,” he said.
North Carolina: Harrell showed promise, displaying good quickness and an ability to escape the pocket. He had two interceptions, but it didn’t help that the Tar Heels were without top wide receiver Tez Walker and tight ends Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver. Mack Brown said he thought Harrell had some good moments despite tweaking his ankle in the second quarter, but that the team didn’t give him enough help.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football