There are plenty of ways to describe the ending of the Hurricanes game against the blue devils on Halloween night, but perhaps the best description is simply: wow. Miami won dramatically when the Canes received a kickoff down 27-24, and they were able to find the end zone as time expiered after throwing eight laterals and gaining 91 yards. In the sequence, the ball exchanged hands nine times between five different players, with Corn Elder finally running it in for the score. The referees reviewed the entire play for nine minutes, but decided that the return was clean and granted the Hurricanes the victory. Players, staff and fans rejoiced, as this thrilling win was much needed after a week full of hardships.
It would have been easy for the Canes to call it quits on this football season as they faced severe adversity this past week. To start, Miami got clobbered 58-0 at home, the worst loss in program history, and fired Head Coach Al Golden. Just two days later, the team suffered the loss of Dana Smith, the beloved mother of junior defensive back Artie Burns, to a heart attack. On Wednesday, reserve defensive tackle Michael Wyche was arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery. Miami then ruled out starting quarterback Brad Kaaya with a concussion for the game against Duke.
To sum things up, the Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2) faced the following obstacles against No. 22 Duke: a week of emotional baggage in their hearts, a night game on the road, a backup quarterback starting for the first time and an interim head coach without any experience at the helm. But through it all, Miami kept going.
The opening kickoff did not stop the hardships from coming as Miami coughed the ball up right away, giving the Blue Devils great field position. But just as the Canes did all throughout this challenging week, they persevered. The Miami defense stuffed Duke on the 1-yard line on fourth down, setting the tone for the entire game.
The defense was lights out in the first, allowing only three points even though Duke had three red zone opportunities. On the flip side, redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Rosier got off to a hot start, going 13-of-17 for 157 yards with a beautiful 33-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Herb Waters. By halftime, Miami was defying the odds, leading Duke 14-3.
The Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1) stormed back in the third, garnering a touchdown and then forcing a safety to make it 14-12. The Canes responded with a touchdown of their own early in the fourth and a field goal with less than six minutes left to bring lead back up to 24-12. It appeared all but over for the Blue Devils, who to their credit, didn’t give up.
They marched right down the field against a stingy Miami defense and found the end zone on a 13-yard slant from quarterback Thomas Sirk to receiver Johnell Barnes. After failing to recover the onside kick, Duke forced a quick Miami punt and took over at their own 20 with 1:50 to go.
A few quick first downs gave the Blue Devils momentum, and then two very questionable pass interference calls (one of which was a Burns interception) had Duke deep in Miami territory. With just six seconds left, Sirk snuck into the end zone from one yard out. The comeback stunned the Hurricanes, who found themselves trailing with six seconds left after leading for most of the game. But Miami’s theme of resilience carried over once more, as Elder ended the game emphatically with the play now being dubbed as “The Return.”
The feel-good win was undoubtedly much needed for the players, and as interim coach Larry Scott put it: “that’s a long time coming.” The narrative the players have been preaching all season, “Unity beats adversity,” finally came to fruition, for it truly takes a special bond for a team to overcome what they did.
Now, Miami will continue to pursue the ACC Coastal crown at home next Saturday against the Virginia Cavaliers. The stakes get higher for Miami each week, but with this win, the Hurricanes sure do appear ready for the challenge.