One by one they came to Raphael Kirby’s side as he lay on the training table to pat him on the top of his head and pray.
Saturday, the Hurricanes breathed some life back into their season and kept their Coastal Division title hopes alive with a 30-20 win over Virginia Tech. But they also lost the heart and soul of their defense to what appears to be a serious right knee injury.
“We’re concerned. That’s all I can say,” coach Al Golden said of Kirby. “He’s getting an MRI right now. We’re just praying for him at this point. Obviously we just want him to have good luck with this. We really do, because nobody deserves it more than he does.”
Miami’s leading tackler, defensive captain and starting inside linebacker was running over to make a tackle on Virginia Tech tight end Kevin Cline with 6:54 to go in the third quarter when his right knee buckled.
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Kirby immediately signaled for UM trainers to come over and help him before the play was over. Trainers helped Kirby off the field and when he reached the training table he slammed his first against it in anger. He had tears in his eyes, WQAM sideline reporter Josh Darrow said, before being carted off into the locker room.
“Hold your head up, we’re going to pray for you,” receiver Rashawn Scott said he told Kirby, who came into Saturday’s game with 13 more tackles than anyone on the team. “Because that was one guy when I was hurt [the last couple seasons] that always kept coming to me and saying ‘I can’t wait until you get back out there. I always pray for you.’ I just got a lot of love for him. It just hurts me seeing that happen to him.”
The Hurricanes, already thin at linebacker with the losses of Darrion Owens and Marquis Gayot, called on sophomore Juwon Young to replace Kirby. He made an immediate impact, racking up four tackles and an interception that led to a third quarter field goal.
“I got to be the captain — that’s it, point blank, period,” Young said of what his role will be now with Kirby out. “I’m the Mike of the defense. I’m the quarterback of the defense, so I got to give the calls, the checks and all that.”
Scott said he expects Kirby will probably be back in the meeting room Sunday — whether he’s healthy or not. “That’s one thing — the person behind him, he coached him real good,” Scott said. “We trust him.”
As promised, the Hurricanes mixed things up on the offensive line against the Hokies, rotating players in and out at different spots.
UM started Trevor Darling, Kc McDermott, Nick Linder, Joe Brown and Danny Isidora from left to right to begin the game. On the next offensive series, McDermott replaced Darling at left tackle and Alex Gall came in at left guard. Two series later, Gall moved over to center, Linder and Brown exited, and Sunny Odogwu moved in at right tackle with Isidora at right guard.
The results weren’t always good. Miami ran the ball 39 times for 99 yards, a 2.5 average and quarterback Brad Kaaya was sacked once and hit a number of times.
“We’re rotating the right guys, so I’m going to let them sort it out — who wants to start, who played really well, who needs to improve and all that,” Golden said. “I feel like we have more guys certainly than we did five or six weeks ago. Kc [McDermott] is really starting to look like himself right now, his conditioning, everything that he’s doing. And Joe [Brown] is making a lot of progress. I’m not disappointed with other guys. We just wanted to continue to push it forward.”