— Abdul Memon (@abdulamemon) November 1, 2015
That really just happened. After a lengthy review, and a review of the review, the Hurricanes beat Duke 30-27 when Corn Elder took the eighth lateral on a kickoff return to the end zone with time expired in Durham on Saturday night.
The game appeared over when Thomas Sirk ran in a one-yard touchdown to put Duke up by three with six seconds left. How could this team, after this week, be on the receiving end of a miracle? After the worst defeat in school history last Saturday that sidelined Brad Kaaya with a concussion for the matchup against the Blue Devils, the firing of Head Coach Al Golden on Sunday, the death of a player’s mother on Tuesday and the arrest of a player on Wednesday, Miami beat No. 22 Duke on one of the greatest plays in the history of college football.
The play started with a Dallas Crawford lateral to Elder at the 20-yard line. Elder then bounced the ball to Ja’Quan Johnson, who flipped it to Mark Walton and then quickly got it back from Walton. The fifth lateral went to Tyre Brady, who pitched it to Elder at the 10-yard line. With a defender closing in, Elder threw the ball to Crawford near the right corner of the goal line. Crawford advanced to the 15-yard line and then reversed the field with the final lateral to Elder, who was waiting near the 10-yard line with three blockers in front of him. Elder cut past the final Duke defender 40 yards from the end zone, and ran the rest of the way untouched into the end zone, and into college football lore.
“It’s never over. It’s never over,” Interim Head Coach Larry Scott said after the game, his first in charge of the Hurricanes. “I don’t know what to say.”
The Canes were in control for most of the night and never trailed until the final seconds when Sirk punched it in.
Duke (6-2, 3-1) made it a one-possession game on a 14-play, 75-yard drive with 2:40 remaining. Sirk converted a critical fourth down from Miami’s 40 on a 13-yard pass to senior receiver Max McCaffrey. Five plays later, Sirk connected with junior receiver Johnell Barnes on a 19-yard strike for a touchdown, cutting Miami’s lead to 24-19.
Miami (5-3, 2-2) recovered the ensuing onside kick, but then went three-and-out after two runs and a short pass. Duke took over at their own 20 with no timeouts and 1:50 remaining. The Hurricanes were called for defensive pass interference three times as the Blue Devils marched down the field to take the lead.
Miami survived a disastrous start to the game. Duke started the game at Miami’s 15 after Walton, a freshman running back fumbled the opening kickoff on a huge hit. Duke moved down to the three-yard line after one play, but that’s when Miami’s defense kicked into gear. The Canes stuffed the Blue Devils on the next four plays, and Miami took over at the one-yard line.
Redshirt freshman Malik Rosier opened his first career start with a quarterback sneak up the middle for a short gain. Facing third-and-five from the six-yard line, Rosier delivered a perfect pass to senior receiver Herb Waters on the left sideline for the first down. Rosier was shaken up after the throw and had to leave the game for one play.
The defenses owned the first quarter as the teams headed to the second tied 0-0. Sophomore running back Joseph Yearby was impressive in the opening quarter, carrying the ball eight times for 46 yards.
Duke opened the second quarter on the move and quickly advanced inside Miami territory. Sirk connected with McCaffrey at Miami’s 18, but junior linebacker Jermaine Grace managed to strip the ball away and the Canes recovered the fumble. Grace finished the half with a career-high 12 tackles.
Rosier came out firing on the ensuing possession, hitting Waters with a beauty down the right sideline for 23 yards on the first play. Rosier followed that up with a 26-yard completion over the middle to redshirt freshman tight end David Njoku two plays later on third-and-five. On the very next snap, the backup quarterback from Alabama threw his first career touchdown pass on a 33-yard lob to the end zone for Waters. The touchdown grab was Waters’ fifth touchdown against Duke in his career for the Canes.
Miami took over after a quick three-and-out on Duke’s next drive, and the Canes started at the Blue Devils’ 35 thanks to a shanked punt that went all of 11 yards. Two screen passes to junior receiver Stacy Coley and a Walton run set Miami up at the one-yard line. The Canes brought in junior fullback Walter Tucker to finish the job, but he fumbled the handoff from Rosier. Fortunately for the Canes, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Sunny Odogwu fell on top of the loose ball in the end zone, and Miami took a 14-0 lead.
Duke responded with a 15-play, 69-yard drive that resulted in a 27-yard field goal by senior Ross Martin. The Blue Devils were down inside the five-yard line at one point, but false starts cost Duke precious yards.
Miami had its own struggles with yellow flags in the first game under Scott. The Canes racked up 11 penalties for 104 yards in the first half alone. Miami finished the game with a school-record 23 penalties for 194 yards.
Duke had one last chance to score before the end of the half, but Martin missed a 38-yard field goal with nine seconds left. The Blue Devils failed to score a touchdown in the first half despite three trips inside the red zone.
The Blue Devils marched down the field with ease to start the third quarter. A 24-yard touchdown run by redshirt junior Jela Duncan capped off a seven-play, 75-yard drive that only took 2:09 off the clock.
After throwing for 157 yards and one touchdown on 13-of-17 passing in the first half, Rosier had his share of struggles in the third quarter. Rosier was picked off on Miami’s first drive when he underthrew his intended target, and took a safety on the team’s last possession of the quarter. Rosier scrambled back to the end zone and threw the ball straight into the ground for an intentional grounding call, gifting two points to Duke.
Walton made up for his poor play in the first half with some hard running to open the fourth quarter. The freshman broke a 27-yard run to put the Canes down near midfield. Walton followed that up with runs of nine and seven yards and then a crucial four-yard gain on third-and-three from Duke’s 24. Rosier finished off the drive with a 19-yard lob to Coley in the right corner of the end zone for his second touchdown pass of the game. Rosier ended the night with 272 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing.
Down two scores, the Blue Devils desperately needed to come away with points on the next drive. Junior defensive back Artie Burns, whose mother passed away Tuesday from a heart attack, was determined to give the ball back to Miami’s offense. Burns forced Duke to turn the ball over on downs with fantastic coverage on third and fourth down throws by Sirk.
Miami took over at its own 49 and moved inside the red zone on a 31-yard catch by redshirt senior receiver Rashawn Scott. Rosier hit Scott with a perfect back-shoulder pass on the left sideline, one of several impressive throws on the night by the redshirt freshman. The Canes settled for a 37-yard field goal by sophomore Michael Badgley to double Duke’s score and take a 24-12 lead with 5:54 remaining.
Duke outgained Miami 440-391 in total yards and finished with 34 first downs to Miami’s 21. The Canes still have a chance to win the ACC Coastal division after the miracle win.
The Hurricanes next face Virginia at 3 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
Feature photo courtesy HurricaneSports.com.