UM football runs into sea of red
It was not supposed to end like this for the 2002 Hurricane football team.
After going 12-0 during the regular season, winning the Fiesta Bowl was supposed to be a mere formality for the heavily favored ‘Canes. Fans were going to begin thinking about a three-peat in 2003.
Instead, the combination of the underdog Ohio State defense, a questionable pass interference call, a devastating injury, and careless mistakes by several Hurricanes led to one of the biggest upsets in college football history, a 31-24 double overtime win for the Buckeyes.
Sure, the Hurricanes had a remarkable season and extended their win streak to 34 games before it was snapped. The team could also take pride in knowing that they were involved in one of the greatest games in the sport’s history.
But the sour taste of defeat left Ken Dorsey and the rest of the squad uninterested in the record books.
“I think we’d appreciate the game more if we were on the winning side,” Dorsey said.
Now, after having a few months to reflect on the 2002 season and forget about how it ended, one can realize how impressive the campaign actually was.
Looking at the big picture, the highlights far outweighed the lowlights for Larry Coker’s bunch.
Entering the season, no one could tell how the Hurricanes would be able to defend their title. Many assumed the losses of Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Ed Reed, and others would be too much to overcome.
It wasn’t until Sept. 7 when the ‘Canes demoralized Florida 41-16 in Gainesville that the team began to realize what it had. The Gator-bashing also foreshadowed the amazing season that Willis McGahee was about to have.
McGahee rushed for 204 yards and slashed through Florida’s defense, the first of many big games for the sophomore.
After easy victories over Temple, Boston College, and Connecticut, the Hurricanes added another chapter to their book of last second wins over hated rival Florida State. In arguably the best game of the regular season, the ‘Canes rallied from a 13 point deficit in the fourth quarter to escape with a 28-27 win after Xavier Beitia’s field-goal attempt sailed wide-left.
At this point in the season, Dorsey was keeping his name in the Heisman race with superior statistics, McGahee emerged as a dark horse in the race, and Kellen Winslow was making everybody in Coral Gables ask “Shockey who?” The sophomore tight end had become Dorsey’s favorite target near the end zone and would have his break-out performance in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Hurricane defense was also critical in the team’s regular season success. In wins against Tennessee, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh, veterans like Jon Vilma and D.J. Williams made timely plays, and youngsters like Sean Taylor and Maurice Sikes picked up where Reed, Phillip Buchanon, and Mike Rumph left off last year.
After Ohio State clinched their spot in the title game, it was up to the Hurricanes to win at home against Virginia Tech. Thanks to a six touchdown performance by McGahee, the squad held on for a 56-45 win over the Hokies, sending the ‘Canes back to Tempe.
Before the title game the Hurricanes made even more headlines when both Dorsey and McGahee were named as two of the five finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Neither would win, but both made the school very proud with their individual seasons.
In his final season, Dorsey ended up breaking conference records in touchdown passes, passing yards, pass completions and pass attempts. McGahee had the best season of any running back in the school’s history, emerging from a backup to a surefire first-round pick.
Unfortunately for the two stars, the season ended worse than anyone could have ever predicted. In the Fiesta Bowl, Dorsey had his worst game as a Hurricane and felt that the loss was his own fault.
“I take all the responsibility for this loss,” Dorsey said after the game. “If I didn’t turn the ball over we would have been in great shape to win our second national championship.”
As bad as the loss was for Dorsey, it ended worse for McGahee. In the fourth quarter, the tailback was hit so hard by cornerback Will Allen that he tore his ACL and MCL. There was talk after the game that his career would be over.
Despite the horrible ending for the Hurricanes, the team can look back with a smile at the seasons of Dorsey and McGahee, the fact that McGahee is on track for a full recovery and a professional career, the emergence of future stars like Roscoe Parrish, Kellen Winslow, Vince Wilfork, Sean Taylor, and others, and a 34-game winning streak that may never be duplicated again.