Miami had enough of the close losses, enough of the heartbreak. Their four-hour bus ride back from Tampa was to be filled with happiness, not regret – even if it meant having their kicker do it for them.
That their happiness would be cut short just a day later was unknown.
After coming out on the wrong side of close games the entire season, the visiting Hurricanes (6-5, 3-4) finally got it together at the end, beating South Florida 6-3 on a Jake Wieclaw 36-yard field goal as time expired. An offense just short of anemic for the first 55 minutes of the game came to life on a fifteen-play drive, as quarterback Jacory Harris and company got it together in the waning moments to give Wieclaw a chance.
“I’m thankful that I was able to come up big for the team,” Wieclaw said. “We go over pressure situations every week in practice, so it’s something I’m used to. It’s nothing new.”
Canes head coach Al Golden stopped the clock with two seconds remaining, his offense stalled at the opposition’s 25 yard-line, only to have back-to-back timeouts called by Bulls coach Skip Holtz – an attempt to freeze Wieclaw, who admitted to not having kicked a game-winning field goal since middle school. But during both stoppages, the entire Miami roster grouped around Wieclaw, jumping, yelling, and screaming at the kicker. The timeout performance comes from a practice drill called ‘pressure kicks’, where the team forms a similar position around Wieclaw trying to distract him during his attempt. Apparently, the practice paid off.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said quarterback Jacory Harris. “I was just ready to rush the field.”
The win made the Canes postseason-eligible, but that bowl-berth would be met Sunday with the university announcing the team had self-imposed a bowl ban, barring the football team from playing past this Friday.
Across the hall from their locker room, victorious, Miami head coach Al Golden and his players addressed the media. Tangible things did result from the win – mainly, avoiding a losing season in Golden’s first and the seniors’ last year. However, what was not known to the players was that Miami would self-sanction a bowl ban on the team, removing themselves from any sort of postseason action.
“My season continues for another 30 days, it’s good for me because I’m a senior and I can go out with a really big win,” said center Tyler Horn following the win. “A bowl’s a bowl. I got 30 days left with these guys, and some of them are my best friends. The fact that I can play football with them a little longer makes me feel good.”
That good feeling is now gone. Players were unavailable for comment Sunday, but Golden and athletic director Shawn Eichorst discussed the ramifications for the bowl-ban for both the school and athletes alike.
“I’m clearly disappointed,” Golden said. “I believe it’s the right decision and I’m 100-percent behind the decision, but clearly we’re disappointed. The team’s disappointed, but they’re going to be resilient. We know that we’re one step closer to putting these issues behind us, so sad as we are, it gives us an opportunity to move forward.”
The “good” feelings felt on Saturday night met the cold realities of a program in constant peril since early August, as the needs of a program outweighed the wants of a few. No doubt will self-sanctioning further Miami’s attempts at pleasing the NCAA, attempting to lessen the penalty that will inevitably fall over the team.
But as the players danced around on the field there were no detractors surrounding them, no one in that corner of the end zone eager to criticize their performance. There was no need for thinking of the future or what punishment awaited them in the offseason, now guaranteed to begin on Friday night. For that moment, fleeting though it was, things were alright.
Now, amidst the uncertainty that awaits, the Canes will end their season one game sooner than expected.