The injury to Zach Collaros may have temporarily taken the air out UC's title hopes, but even in defeat, Munchie Legaux helped breathe life back into them.
CINCINNATI - The moment silenced 48,152 people. The hum of a golf cart carrying the heart, soul and captain of the Cincinnati football team to the locker room replaced the growing crescendo of a six-game win streak and whispers of locking up the Orange Bowl.
Zach Collaros, head in hands, knowledge of his body forcing tears out of it, disappeared into the back hallways of Paul Brown Stadium.
Once he did, all attention snapped to a 20-year-old kid from New Orleans wearing No. 4, dreads flowing out the back of his helmet suddenly a secondary visual to eyes opened wider than the Ohio River.
Munchie Legaux, seven career passes, zero relevant QB snaps. You're down 10 in front of the third largest crowd in the 124-year history of the institution against the most talented team in the conference. Get in there. Don't mess up.
"Yeah, I was nervous," Legaux said.
There was no hiding it.
"Nah, not at all," he said, smiling as he replayed the nerves in his head.
Those nerves quickly shifted from affecting Legaux to shaking the core of the Bearcats title aspirations.
His second pass sailed aimlessly over the head of Anthony McClung and directly into the arms of safety Keith Tandy.
It didn't end there. Another pass short-hopped the target. Two incompletions later, another punt. Then another three-and-out on the first drive after halftime.
Finally, after weeks of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats being knocked down for the mandatory 8-count, it appeared the injury to Collaros delivered the knockout blow.
They always got back up. Even for the resilient Bearcats, this was too much. The excuse was built in. Nobody would fault them. Chemistry only completes so many passes. Will to win only overcomes so many forced punts.
Buried at their own 5-yard-line, UC was only left to wonder what would come next. What would be the decisive blow?
Then, on first down, Legaux experienced his Zach Collaros moment. At least, Collaros circa 2009 at USF. He busted through the line of scrimmage, made a safety miss and broke into the open PBS turf like a cheetah released out of his cage. Sixty-four yards later, he went down. Meanwhile, his sideline lifted up.
A roar of the crowd set a fitting soundtrack to the pack of Bearcats losing their minds on the sidelines. Collaros nearly came out of his crutches.
This was only one play. It didn't even result in a score after a missed field goal. But it made this crowd believe. It made this team believe. Most importantly, it made Legaux believe.
"That was big," Legaux said. "That was big on the whole offense, the whole team. We kind of had our head down a little bit that Zach was down."
"It was big in momentum," Jones said. "It kind of uplifted everyone and gave some confidence as well."
From that point forward, Legaux's eyes flipped from fear to focus. He no longer was a liability. He was a leader.
In his first four drives Legaux ran 12 plays for 44 yards with an interception and zero points.
The next three he ran 17 plays for 168 yards, two touchdowns and a missed field goal.
Legaux comfortably rolled right and made precise third-down throws. He broke tackles with elusive speed. He bounced a run outside for a touchdown.
Munchie Legaux started selling season tickets for 2012.
"Yeah, it just was a rhythm thing, finding a rhythm, seeing the defense," said Legaux, who finished 10 of 21 for 144 yards in the air adding 77 yards and a TD on the ground. "At first it was everybody flying all over the field. Once I got to the sideline after the first one, Zach talked to me and said calm down, you have been doing this in practice. This is what you do. So just calm down, so that is what I did."
Nobody should be surprised the future football coach found the motivational key to unlock the playmaker in his backup. With headset over his ears, Collaros leaned extra hard on his crutches describing play options with his hand.
Collaros may have been out, but he wasn't going away.
"That's Zach Collaros," Jones said. "He'll be a great coach. He's invested in this football program. He's invested in his teammates and he is the captain of this football team. He's one of the most unselfish individuals I have ever been around. That is him."
The UC defense propped up Legaux as well. They held the explosive WVU offense to a scoreless third quarter. It was only the fourth scoreless quarter the Mountaineers experienced all season - two of those came against No. 1 LSU.
"Munchie comes in there and plays against us every day in practice," said Derek Wolfe, who had 2.5 tackles for loss. "He comes in there and runs all over us and throws all over us sometimes. I have as much faith in Munchie as I do in anybody. I told him whenever he threw that pick or whatever, I said, 'Don't worry man, you'll be all right. We got your back.'"
They gave Legaux three opportunities and he took advantage of the third with a 34-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins.
In the end, the 31-yard Tony Miliano field goal was blocked. And the Bearcats team that always finds a way to win finally didn't. But it was hard to blame the 20-year-old kid from New Orleans.
Considering the situation, he gave his team an opportunity for victory. That's good, because there's a chance they'll need him to do so a few more times.
The hunt for a Big East championship may have just fallen into his lap.
comfortable (with Legaux), he has gained valuable reps," said Jones, adding
Legaux and Collaros have had the same number of reps in practice since August.
"Like I told Munchie, he has waited for this opportunity. It is all about opportunities
and now your time is right now. Go make the most of it. And our players will
rally around him."