ATLANTA-Losses to Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia Tech might have cast a dark cloud over the Miami Hurricanes’ 2004 season, but the departing seniors can take solace in the way it ended: a convincing 27-10 victory over the Florida Gators in the Peach Bowl.
This year’s graduating class will leave Coral Gables without ever losing to Florida or Florida State, an accomplishment senior quarterback Brock Berlin does not take lightly.
“There’s no better feeling than beating FSU three times and Florida twice [in two years],” Berlin said. “If that isn’t big, I don’t know what is.”
Berlin did not have his best outing, however, going 13-for-24 for 171 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The Florida transfer was aided by the playmaking ability of Devin Hester, who returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown and intercepted a Chris Leak pass, and Roscoe Parrish, who returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown.
Both offenses struggled to move the ball early on. The Gators had the first scoring opportunity after Tremaine McCollum blocked Brian Monroe’s punt, setting up first-and-10 from Miami’s 20-yard line. Florida’s fortunes took a disastrous turn for the worse when Matt Leach’s 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Thomas Carroll and recovered by Hester, who ran to the end zone untouched to give the Hurricanes a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Florida responded with a 15 play, 55-yard drive resulting in a 34-yard Leach field goal. The Gators got the ball back quickly after a Frank Gore fumble, but Leak’s next pass was picked off by Hester and returned 28 yards, giving Miami the ball on Florida’s 34-yard line. Jon Peattie kicked a 47-yard field goal to extend the Hurricanes’ lead to seven points late in the second quarter.
Miami’s defense held once again, and Parrish electrified the 69,322 fans in the Georgia Dome with his aforementioned punt return to make the score 17-3. The Gators blew a chance to close the gap before halftime when Leach missed a 41-yard field goal.
Head Coach Larry Coker said the speed and athleticism of Hester and Parrish was the difference in this game.
“Roscoe and Devin are really special players,” Coker said. “I don’t know if you can coach a lot of the things that they do. But they love to play; they’re tough kids and they’re really competitive and they’re playmakers.”
The Hurricanes blew the game open on their first offensive possession of the second half, as Berlin found seldom-used wide receiver Ryan Moore for a 20-yard touchdown. Chris Leak threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jemalle Cornelius late in the third quarter to make the score 24-10, but that was as close as the Gators would get. Jon Peattie added a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
Coker was unusually animated after the game as he celebrated with his departing seniors.
“It is very emotional because it’s a small class and it’s a class that has been maligned a little bit from the standpoint of ‘how come you didn’t win a national championship?’ That’s kind of been the benchmark at Miami,” he said. “They’ve done everything I have asked them to do and for them to go out – they never lost to Florida State, they never lost to Florida – and play that hard and that well to come out with a win; I’m very gratified.”
Many fans worried that the Hurricanes would be too disappointed with the regular season-ending loss to Virginia Tech to get excited for the Peach Bowl. Coker said the team was entirely focused on beating the Gators, however.
“We didn’t want to go out with two consecutive losses, and again playing a team like Florida, it’s very special to win that last game to finish recruiting and go into spring practice,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of players back, and hopefully we can build off this.”
Eric Kalis can be contacted at email@example.com