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Kinchens, Williams Key Another Strong Defensive Effort

Kinchens, Williams Key Another Strong Defensive Effort

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – There was energy. The crowd at Hard Rock Stadium was buzzing.

After a sluggish first half, Miami’s offense had just gotten its first touchdown of the day on an electric 26-yard run from Ajay Allen that had pulled the Hurricanes even with Virginia in the opening minutes of the third quarter.

And amidst all the commotion in the stands and the celebrating on the sideline, Miami safety James Williams turned to fellow safety Kam Kinchens with a bold prediction.

“James is literally standing next to me and said, ‘Bro, I’ve got a feeling somebody’s going to catch a pick six,’” Kinchens said with a laugh after Miami’s eventual 29-26 overtime win over the Cavaliers. “He was like, ‘I don’t know who’s going to catch it, but it’s going to be a pick and it’s going to be a pick-six.’”

Williams, it turns out, was right.

Seconds after Fletcher’s touchdown run on the first play of Virginia’s ensuing possession, Kinchens saw where Virginia quarterback Tony Muskett was going with the ball and made a play.

That play? An interception – and a 29-yard sprint to the end zone for a Miami touchdown.

Immediately after scoring, Kinchens, of course, made it a point to seek out Williams.

“That’s why I made sure I pointed at him,” Kinchens said. “I was like, ‘Wow. This is crazy.’ He just said it could’ve been anybody. Like it could’ve been him, it could’ve been me, it could have been Rueben Bain. We were going to be happy regardless. But I’m happy it was me.”

Kinchens – who time and again has been described as not just a leader for the defense, but one of the heart-and-soul leaders of the entire team – put together yet another memorable performance in what has been a series of them during his time at Miami.

The All-American finished with nine tackles, an interception and another pass defended.

Making his effort even more memorable was the fact that Williams, one of his closest friends, turned in a big performance, too.

Williams finished with a game-high 13 tackles, including six solo stops and afterwards, Kinchens said the two safeties combining to play as well as they did was a tribute to what being Hurricanes (6-2, 2-2 ACC) means to the two South Florida natives.

“It just shows all the hard work and dedication we put into the game; you know?” Kinchens said. “When we put on these jerseys and we put on these helmets, it means something to us. So, we try our hardest to put on the best we can. When we have games like that, it’s on full display.

“We’re giving everything we’ve got to help this team.”

Kinchens and Williams weren’t the only Miami defenders who made a difference Saturday.

A week after putting together multiple stalwart goal-line stands in their thrilling 28-20 double overtime win over Clemson, the Hurricanes held once again, were able to keep their opponent out of the endzone when needed.

Linebacker Corey Flagg, Jr. – who had a clutch game-saving tackle in last week’s win over Clemson – finished with 10 tackles. Defensive lineman Jahfari Harvey added nine stops and a quarterback hurry. Linebacker Francisco Mauigoa had six tackles, including two for losses, and Bain, who’s enjoying a breakout freshman season, added seven tackles, two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, a QB hurry and broke up a pass.

All of those efforts meant that four times, Virginia had to settle for field goals from Will Bettridge, with one of those – a 35-yarder – coming in overtime.

Key in helping hold Virginia to three points in that moment were Kinchens and Williams, both of whom made tackles to keep the Cavaliers (2-6, 1-3) from extending their drive or scoring a touchdown in the extra period.

Those stops helped put the Hurricanes in position to win the game with a touchdown of their own – a touchdown that eventually came when Mark Fletcher, Jr. scored on an 11-yard run.

It was, Miami’s players and coaches said, the most complementary football.

“Today was muddy. Things weren’t as clear as they have been in the past,” Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal said after the win. “We’ve got to scheme it up better. We’ve got to coach better, and we’ve got to play better … Tyler Van Dyke is our quarterback and he’s done a really good job in a lot of instances. Today wasn’t his best day and that happens sometimes. The defense stepped up. The run game stepped up. … We put it in the hands of the people that were moving some people around and a couple plays later, we’re in the end zone.”

Added Van Dyke, who threw two interceptions Saturday, “At the end of the day, my teammates got me. The defense did a great job and gave the offense a chance to win the game. And thank God for [kicker] Andy Borregales. Without him, I mean, I think we would have lost the game. He made three clutch kicks.”

With a pair of clutch showings in overtime behind them, the Hurricanes – and their defense – know they now face a November gauntlet that includes three of four on the road.

All are conference games, and all could go a long way in determining their postseason fate.

Kinchens believes his unit, and his team, are more than ready for the challenge ahead.

“Coach Cristobal, [offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson], [defensive coordinator Lance Guidry], our position coaches, [graduate assistants] and our strength coaches, everybody’s going to remind us one game at time, one day at time, one practice at a time,” Kinchens said. “It’s not going to be hard to lock in. We’ve got to just continue going out there and trying to stack these wins. … All credit to Coach Cristobal, we’re just giving our all for this team and that’s what he wants. We just keep showing out and showing out and showing out.”