The Miami Hurricanes have failed all season closing out games in the fourth quarter. Miami finally got over the hump Saturday, but just barely.
The Hurricanes scored 10 first quarter points, and they capitalized on a pair of Central Florida special team blunders late in the fourth quarter to escape with a 20-14 victory at Dolphin Stadium.
Miami (3-3) led 12-7 with five and a half minutes left when Central Florida’s Joe Burnett fumbled a punt and the Hurricanes Sam Shields recovered it at the Knight’s five-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing drive, running back Graig Cooper turned the corner on the right sideline for a 5-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Jacory Harris followed with a two-yard scamper to convert a two-point conversion.
Central Florida (2-4) struck back quickly. Burnett answered with a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, cutting the lead to six points.
The Knights then forced a punt, but their comeback bid fell short.
With less than two minuets remaining, Hurricanes linebacker Darryl Sharpton broke up a pass on fourth-and-four from the Miami 36-yard line to seal the win.
“This was an exciting game for us,” Head Coach Randy Shannon said. “It was a good win to get us back on the road, coming off of two tough losses at home.”
After being victimized a week ago, Miami’s defense bounced back with one of their best performances of the season. The Hurricanes forced 12 punts and allowed a total of 78 yards of total offense.
“I think the defense came out and responded,” Shannon said. “I think they did a great job of controlling the game for us because we didn’t get much going on offense, and they did a tremendous job on third down.”
The Hurricanes struck first on their second possession of the game, capping off an eight play, 68 yard-drive when quarterback Robert Marve fired a strike to wide receiver Travis Benjamin for a 25-yard touchdown.
Miami also created a turnover on special teams in the first quarter. Tight end Richard Gordon’s blocked punt set up the Hurricanes with a short field at Central Florida’s 25-yard line. Miami would only manage a Matt Bosher 35-yard field goal.
The Knights received a big play from their defense in the second quarter. Central Florida’s Johnell Neal jumped the route on a Marve pass and returned the interception 62-yards for a touchdown.
Miami added to their lead in the fourth quarter when a long snap overshot punter Blake Clingan, resulting in a safety.
Cooper paced the Hurricanes on offense, rushing for 90-yards on a career-high 23 carries.
Outside his touchdown pass, Marve struggled mightily in his fifth career start, completing 8-of-18 passes for 74 yards and throwing three interceptions.
“I need to step up on this team,” Marve said. “Throwing three interceptions is not acceptable by any means. I just have to know that when I’m down, I got to get back up. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Harris relieved an ineffective Marve in the fourth quarter, working with poor field position and struggling for the most part to move the Hurricanes down the field. Harris finished 4-for-6 with 14-yards passing.
Central Florida quarterback Rob Calabrese also had a miserable afternoon, going 11-for-35 for 72 yards passing.
Miami will play their remaining games in conference, beginning on the road next Saturday against Duke.