Junior Mint: Ex-Conway star leads Michigan to sweet win

Conway native Junior Hemingway saved the biggest game of his college career to make his biggest plays.

The Michigan wide receiver caught two touchdown passes to earn the Most Outstanding Player award and lead the Wolverines to a 23-20 overtime victory over Virginia Tech in Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl.

Hemingway caught a 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter for Michigan’s first points of the night, outbattling two Hokies defenders for the ball and then sprinting the final 20 yards to paydirt.

Later in the third period, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson lobbed a pass into the back of the end zone and Hemingway jumped high in the air and placed one foot in-bounds to complete the 18-yard connection. They were his only receptions of the game – but there were none bigger.

“Denard just threw the ball up in the air,” Hemingway told ESPN’s Chris Fowler on the field after the game. “Me and the other receivers work on it all the time. We just have to go up and get it when it’s time to make a big play.”

During emotional postgame speech, Hemingway detailed the difficult times he and his fellow seniors have been through. The fifth-year senior has played under three different coaches, endured NCAA sanctions and suffered through nagging injuries to pen a happy ending to his five years in Ann Arbor.

“It shows our heart. It shows our determination. It shows everything we’ve been through because we’ve been through a lot,” Hemingway said amid a stream of tears, cheers and confetti. “People don’t understand that, but to come out here and win this bowl game with the people I’ve worked so hard with from Day One feels so good. Ain’t nothing like it.”

The celebration began as Michigan kicker’s Brendan Gibbons booted a 37-yard field goal to lift the Wolverines (11-2) to the win after letting a 17-6 lead slip away in the second half. In fact, the Hokies appeared to take a 26-20 lead moments earlier but instead came away with no points.

Justin Myer, who had helped the Hokies (11-3) force overtime by kicking a 25-yard field goal with two seconds left in regulation, missed from 37 yards in overtime after a diving touchdown catch by Danny Coale was nullified by replay review.

Virginia Tech, which rallied to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter, dug itself a hole with some uncharacteristic special teams mistakes. A roughing-the-punter penalty set up Michigan’s first touchdown with 49 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and a fumble on the ensuing kickoff enabled Gibbons to end the half with the first of his three field goals.

Virginia Tech tied it at 17 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Logan Thomas and two-point conversion pass from Thomas to Marcus Davis early in the fourth. Coale paced the Hokies with eight receptions for 117 yards, while Myer was 4-for-4 on field goals in regulation.

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